A Strong Dose of Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to SHOW UP and BE SEEN when we have NO CONTROL over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” – Brene Brown

Show up? Be seen? NO control?

It’s like there’s been a security breach in my head. My internal sirens are in overdrive, blaring at maximum volume, telling me this is a terrible idea: Heck. No. Back off Lauren, this is dangerous, uncharted territory. STAY STRONG and do not even THINK about showing weakness. You know better.

As athletes, we’re taught to value strength and fight off weakness – we take pride in ridiculous conditioning tests, lifting outrageous weights, demolishing the toughest opponents. By the time we step onto the court as college freshman, we already worship the moments when we feel invincible.

Perhaps that’s why we have such an aversion to being vulnerable. We equate that with weakness (which, I might add, is a total flaw in judgment). And if our opponents don’t get to see our weaknesses, no way in heck do our teammates/coaches/friends/family get to know our inner doubts. Since theirs are the opinions that truly matter, it becomes absolutely terrifying, borderline paralyzing, to open up. It’s like we have some crazy built-in defense mechanism.

Because with vulnerability comes the potential for judgment, and with that rejection.

How’s that for scary? I’d take 100 conditioning tests before I expose the ugly side of Lauren.

As captain of my basketball team for the past three years, I had the completely self-inflicted added pressure of appearing like I had it all together – aka, the blessing and the curse of perfectionism.

I relished moments of vulnerability from my teammates. I felt honored that they trusted me enough to confide in me. But no way in heck was I going to cross that boundary and become vulnerable myself.

Until I was forced to.

Summer of 2015 was one of the toughest times of my life, for multiple reasons (Now on the other side of things, I can say it was also a time of multiple learning experiences, for which I’m ultimately grateful for. No matter how much it sucked to endure.). At the end of summer, my basketball team was planning on going to a trip to Africa. Ironically, on a trip that I was sure was going to be an emotional sh*tshow, I was an emotional wreck. Literally broke down in tears the night I reunited with my team.

I couldn’t keep myself together. My wall of togetherness was crumbling – and fast.

That’s when one of my mentors, Kristin Stockfisch, suggested I be vulnerable, yes, you heard that right, vulnerable in front of my entire team. Um, no thank you. I’ll take a hard pass.

But as scared as I was to share my weakness, to show that I didn’t have all the answers, I was even more scared about going to Africa without some kind of support system.

And so the façade of perfectionism was broken. Smashed, actually. Obliterated. I was no longer invincible.

Mind you, when I had to actually do the sharing, I was more of a wreck then when I had arrived. My palms were sweating (a rarity), my cheeks were blotchy, I didn’t know where to look, tears were streaming down my face. And I felt like absolute crap when it was all said and done. Like it was the most terrible idea of my life.

And yet…some small, infinitesimal part of me felt oh so slightly better. Not great, but better. You know what that feeling was? Freedom. Freedom to be the real me, no matter how insanely messed up I felt in that moment. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have the answers (and wouldn’t for a very long time). It only mattered that people understood what I was going through.

Brene, again, says it best: “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities…perfect and bulletproof are seductive but they don’t exist in human experience.”

I was certainly not ready to be vulnerable last summer. And I don’t think you ever really are ready. Because you can give yourself a hundred excuses on why you shouldn’t be vulnerable. Because apparently there’s so much to “lose.”

But you know what? There’s even more to gain.

We gain connection, understanding, empathy, community, hope…all of it.

Still, being vulnerable is scary. We’re afraid of the unknown – when we put ourselves out there, we have no idea how the other party is going to react to our vulnerability. And that, my friends, I’m sure is why so many of us would rather not be vulnerable.

So even as I tell you this, there’s a part of me that still resists embracing vulnerability. Because even today, I have this nasty habit of being vulnerable with people after I’ve got it all figured out. It’s so much easier to present your vulnerability in a nicely done up bow-tie. Like, “Look here’s what I struggled with, but I figured it out, and I’m ok now.” INSTEAD OF, “Look, here’s what I’m currently struggling with, and I have no freakin’ clue how to figure it out. Help.” Just wanted to give you all proof that 1) I’m not perfect 2) I still struggle with this, and 3) sometimes I don’t like to take my own advice.

So yeah, we’re not going to be perfect in our vulnerability, and we’re not expected to be. But to reference the beginning of this blog post, Brene calls us to show up and be seen. We have to try. That is all.

To follow Brene’s lead, I leave you with a call to action as well: Find places/people/moments where you can be vulnerable in your life. Be courageous. Dare greatly.

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