Recently, I went to dinner with a group of friends from the gym. Prior to heading to dinner, my husband shared some difficult news he had received. It had been a particularly hard day for him after what had already been a challenging couple of weeks.
I almost didn’t go to dinner because I didn’t want to leave him home alone to sit and stew on this news by himself. However, he insisted that I go.
I went, but my head was all over the place. Driving to the restaurant, I tried to psych myself up for dinner and tried to put on my game face. I didn’t want to be Debbie Downer with this fairly new group of friends, so I was fully prepared to do what I had done countless times before––hide the news and pretend everything was fine.
But, it didn’t work.
No sooner than I found my group and sat down at the table, I proceeded to word vomit all over the two women who sat next to me.
The past couple of weeks had been so heavy, I just couldn’t hide it.
After I finished spilling the beans, one woman said to me, “Wow, that was so brave of you to tell us. I would have NEVER shared that. ”
At first, I was terribly self-conscious when she said that.
I didn’t see the bravery in it. I just felt raw and tired. I didn’t have the energy to pretend everything was okay.
Because, after all, keeping up appearances and hiding the hard stuff is difficult work. It’s exhausting to pretend you have it together all the time.
But, there was a time when that’s what I did on a regular basis. I was “the strong one” and I worked hard to preserve my image as someone who was always positive and upbeat.
Being vulnerable was something I never really considered.
But three years ago, all that changed.
My Journey to Vulnerability
Three years ago, my husband and I were in the middle of IVF. We had struggled for years to have a baby. And after my husband was diagnosed with cancer, we went to the fertility clinic to get help.
We had spent months doing testing and lower level treatments that all failed. So, we finally progressed to IVF to give us a better shot at having a child.
At the time, I was broken and worn out from dealing with both cancer and infertility for the past year. We retreated during this period. We didn’t see friends. We didn’t go out much. We stayed at home in our safe cocoon.
But, this wasn’t our nature. This wasn’t who we were. But, it felt like the only thing we had the energy to do.
I had finally had enough and realized we needed to do something to quit focusing so much on ourselves. So, we went to a volunteer day at our church. And there, we met a wonderful couple, Bob and Dale, who we connected with instantly.
They were so energetic and joyful. And I knew I needed more of that positive energy in my life. I needed to surround myself with good people. And I craved connection. So, I decided to attend Dale’s women’s group that she was hosting at her house.
Discovering the Bravery of Vulnerability
At the time, just showing up to that gathering felt very brave for me. I remember feeling nervous walking up to her house because I knew that I wouldn’t know anyone there. And having felt isolated for so long, it felt like an uncomfortable way to break out of my shell.
That night, the conversation centered around vulnerability. And Dale showed this short cartoon video narrated by Brené Brown.
Somehow, up until that point, I didn’t really know about Brené Brown. But, I remember feeling so “seen” watching this video explaining the difference between sympathy and empathy. It was the first time I felt like someone understood what I was feeling.
Following the video and a short introduction from Dale, we moved into a group discussion.
And I don’t know what got into me, but during the conversation, I revealed that I was in the middle of IVF to 40 women who were complete strangers to me. I was so nervous to utter the words… And at first, I felt so naked and exposed once I shared. But that quickly evaporated into a sense of relief.
At the end of the night, two different women came up to me to share that they had also experienced infertility. Even though their experiences were different than mine, it was so comforting to connect with others who had been through something similar.
Up until that night, only our family and a select few friends knew about our struggle with infertility and Garth’s recent bout with cancer.
We didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. And we knew we would be okay. But gosh, we were having a really hard time with it all.
And perhaps, I feared what would happen if I shared the messy bits of our life with other people. How would they respond? What would they say? What would they think of us?
And, I let that stop me.
And it nearly ate me alive.
How Vulnerability Drives Connection
What I failed to see during that difficult time in my life is that vulnerability is brave. It’s the willingness to put yourself out there without control over the response. It’s exposing your emotions for someone else to see.
And that seemed scary to me.
And while, yes, it might have opened me up to hurtful comments or people not responding the way I had hoped, it was also depriving me of connection.
You see, once I shared my story with the other women in the room at Dale’s house, I created the opportunity to connect with other people who shared a similar experience. I gave other women the opportunity to say “yeah, me too.”
That was so empowering and life-giving to me. I realized that while sharing my story was scary, I couldn’t continue to live a disconnected life. Garth and I couldn’t keep hiding in our safe cocoon. I needed to be around other people. I realized how much better and healthier I felt when connecting with other women that night.
We Appreciate Vulnerability in Others, But Not Ourselves
It’s funny. I think when it comes to vulnerability, we applaud it in other people. We find people to be so brave when they share their stories, but we are scared to death to share ours.
At least, that’s how I felt.
That’s why after that night, I went on to read more of Brené Brown’s work. In particular, The Gifts of Imperfection, was a huge eye-opener for me.
I certainly don’t have it all figured out and I’m still working on how to be more vulnerable. But, after experiencing the power of vulnerability, I have worked to make it a bigger part of my life.
Bravely Sharing My Story
Months after that experience at Dale’s house, I decided to open up more fully about our experiences with cancer and infertility. I wrote articles about our journey and posted them online and shared them on my social media channels.
I remember how scared I was to share the news with people in our network of friends and family, many of whom had no idea we went through these things. But, it wasn’t long after I published these articles that I had people reaching out to me to check in or to say “hey, me too! I’ve been there!”
When you do the brave work of being vulnerable, you’re also giving other people the opportunity to feel seen and more connected. You are giving other people the chance to feel empathy and belonging because they can better relate to your experience. Plus, you are giving people the chance to show YOU love.
What I’ve realized is that trying to be perfect is not only exhausting, but it doesn’t really create connection. No one wants to be friends with someone who looks like they have it together all the time because NO ONE DOES. No one is perfect.
What Would Happen if You Were More Vulnerable?
Embracing imperfection and the challenges in your life is what makes you human. And being willing to own that and talk about that makes you someone that people want to be around.
After all, if you think about the people who love you most–– your family, your friends, your spouse––they are the people who love you despite your flaws. They are the people you can tell anything without fear of judgment. In other words, you can be freely vulnerable with them.
But, what would happen if you widened that circle a bit? What would happen if you started being more vulnerable at work or with your friends?
I’m not saying you need to make every life challenge public news on social media, but what if you were a little more honest about how you’re feeling or what is happening in your life?
When you do this, you are inviting others to do the same with you. You are giving other people permission to be vulnerable too. And that is a gift!
So, I encourage you to be the brave one to go first. Talk about what you’re going through. Talk about your feelings. Talk about the good stuff AND the bad.
Because life is filled with both. It’s not ALL good. But, it’s not ALL bad either.
Embrace both. Share both.
Because when you do, you are giving people the gift of experiencing you. ALL of you. The REAL you. Not just the shiny bits.
I can’t promise it will always go the way you hope, but I can tell you that the risk is worth it. The connections you will make are worth it. The relief you will feel is worth it.
Your life will be so much fuller and richer as a result.
Vulnerability is truly brave. Never forget that.
I really hope you’ll give it a try.