When I was 6 years old, my friend down the street, Kathy, had a birthday party and she didn’t invite me. I found out about it when I just happened to show up on her doorstep to see if she wanted to play. Her mom told me she was busy, but I could see it was a birthday party. What did I do? I turned around and marched right home.
I didn’t do what you might think someone in my position would do. I put on my best dress and looked around my room for something she might like. I found Leonard the Lion, one of my good (but not favorite) stuffed animals, and tucked him under my arm. I yelled to my mom that I was heading down to Kathy’s house and slinked out the front door. I didn’t want her asking questions. She might not like that I was wearing my good dress or that I was giving away one of my toys.
It was a short walk, but I remember the sun shining and the dirt under my feet. It was a hot day in Southern California. My dress was long and occasionally brushed the ground. The 2-minute walk brought me back to her front door. I rang the doorbell and when her mom reappeared, the brightness of the day made the inside look very dark. I held out the gift and this time I was invited in. I don’t remember her face, just that I was enveloped into the festivities and felt like I belonged. It wasn’t awkward for me, although it may have been for her.
I don’t remember anything beyond that point, but that memory sticks with me and shows up from time to time. I was vulnerable that day. It just as easily could have turned out with me being turned away, but because I was willing to be vulnerable, something good happened.
Vulnerability is a feeling that we are opening ourselves up to harm, whether it’s physical or emotional. What it can offer us, however, it the ability to connect with our tribe and to be loved and appreciated for all that we truly are. As human beings, though, our defense mechanisms can kick into high gear and work hard to protect us from pain. It’s ironic that vulnerability is the one thing that can bring us true connection, but it’s one of the scariest things to actually do. It requires a stripping away of pretense and self-perceived protection.
When we spend our lives keeping our true selves hidden, we may not experience as much rejection, but we also won’t have opportunities to find true friendship and love. We can go through life settling for the next best thing, not truly engaging or living all out. There is so much possibility in living a vulnerable life. So much power we give ourselves when we open up in ways that allow for deep and meaningful connection.
When I was 6 it was much easier for me to be vulnerable. Through the years, rejection on many levels taught me to keep parts of myself hidden and to not risk being vulnerable. What happened in reality was that instead of reaping the benefits of vulnerability, I chose jobs and relationships that ultimately were not fulfilling in the ways they needed to keep me interested or engaged. It caused so much more pain in the long run than if I had stayed true to myself and my wants and desires. It’s still hard to be vulnerable, but I am practicing it every day now.
These days, vulnerability includes making new friends, trying new things, taking risks when it comes to life, love, business. I haven't always succeeded in the traditional sense, but I have always succeeded in having one less regret as I get older. Taking a chance, being vulnerable, makes me stronger. I like that. The photo above is me making friends and putting myself out there in the dance community. Yay me!
Through this shift around vulnerability, I am laughing far more and deepening meaningful relationships. I experience less anxiety because I’m not trying to be something I am not. I’m not perfect nor have I perfected this practice, but life is a richer and sweeter. What do you want your life to look like?
What does it mean to you to be vulnerable? How has it served you in your lifetime? How can you practice vulnerability?