Defining (and maybe accepting) Vulnerability

Remember that group of friends I meet up with to talk about authenticity? How we’re working on a program for first years to talk about the questions we all face in school about self-awareness and acceptance? How hard it is to ask someone questions and be willing to answer their own?

Well, we had another meeting last week. But beforehand we watched a video that not only reaffirmed our plan of action, but for me, led to deeper thinking and reevaluation of how I see myself.

For those of you who don’t want to watch the talk by Dr. Brené Brown (it’s a bit long, but I promise it’s worth it), I’ll give a few quotes that have been floating through my head all week:

“Courage…is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. Courage is to be imperfect. It’s the compassion to be kind to yourself and then to others.”

“Authenticity is letting go of who you think you should be to be who you are.”

“Vulnerability is the ability to be seen. It’s the willingness to do something that has no guarantees. It’s the core of shame and fear and our struggle to find worthiness, but it appears it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

Those three words, courage, authenticity, and vulnerability, plagued me after watching and discussing the video. It seemed that everywhere I went, everyone I listened to, those words popped up in the conversation. It was like a radio had been turned on in my head and I kept picking up one clear signal. The other stations in my life were staticky and only came in when one of those words or phrases were used.

I’m not saying I was getting a divine message or anything, it just so happened that I watched the video during a week full of self-doubt and questioning of my future.

Take Dr. Brown’s idea of courage, for example. To be imperfect. To be kind to yourself. Now those are two very hard tasks. It’s so easy to be down on yourself and strive for perfection. There’s a stereotype at Loyola that the perfect student has a 3.5+ GPA, is president of at least 2 clubs, does service on a regular basis, maintains healthy eating habits/works out at the FAC, gets along well with all professors, earns high achievement in their major, and somehow always looks composed. Sadly, there’s a ring of truth to the image, even if an individual only qualifies for some of the above. I know I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to do well in school and in the community. But sometimes the amount of stress that leads to is more negative than positive.

I know I’ve talked about authenticity before, but Dr. Brown phrased it perfectly. Authenticity is about knowing yourself and accepting yourself, no matter the imperfections, fears, and doubts you face every day. It’s not about thinking so much as being. It’s taking down your walls to be who you are, even though you might risk everything.

Taking that risk is being vulnerable, and man did Dr. Brown get me with that one! I hate being vulnerable. I hate showing I’m weak. When I was little I taught myself to not be ticklish because, in a sense, it showed weakness.

Today, as a young adult, vulnerability is my greatest adversary, but I’m learning how to make it work for me. This blog is a way I get over my vulnerability. I’m allowing myself to be seen, sometimes by people I’ve never met before, and maybe never will. I’m opening up on paper, which is one step closer to opening up in person. I’m trying to do things that have no guarantees, like studying abroad for a semester and getting into a relationship. Well, there are certain things I know will happen with both of those cases, but I don’t know how they’ll change me in the end.

If you’re wondering why I’m writing about this in the first place, I have two reasons. The first: I write about what happens in my life, specifically ideas and things I’m passionate about. This is one of them. Second: I think these topics can be explored more fully at Loyola, and the discussion is necessary to create a stronger community.

Dr. Brown closed with this:

“How do we fix this [disconnect]? Let ourselves be seen. Love with our whole hearts. Practice gratitude & joy in those moments of passion. To feel so vulnerable means we’re alive. To believe we’re enough.”

I’ve Got Questions, We All Need the Answers.

What is self authenticity?
How are you real?
What makes you know that you are who you say you are?
How do you hold yourself accountable for your self-awareness?

These are some of the questions that came to my mind after having a (really cool, amazing, thought-provoking, awesome, attention grabbing, real) conversation with some new friends about stereotypes at Loyola and how they affect the culture at school.

Before you close the window because answering these questions is scary, (heck, asking these questions is scary), hear me out. Let me try to answer them in my own way:

Self-authenticity is not being fake. How do I know I’m not fake? I can look in the mirror and say with good conscience that I am happy with the person staring back (most days, I’m not perfect). I can look at myself and accept the physical, mental and emotional stuff that makes up a human body, a human soul.

I know who I am because I think about who I want to be. Part of realizing who you are comes from learning about what you aren’t. It’s kind of like process of elimination, but on a much larger, positive personality-oriented scale.

I know I’m not the only one who knows who I am. My friends, professors, fellow students, family, and my lovely readers, know who, what, how, and even why I am. They hold me accountable for my representation of myself.

At this point you can argue that the term “representation” is relative. That there are parts of you that you have to keep separate from certain environments. That History Class Rory is different from Art Class Rory is different from Alpha Aide Rory is different from Knitting Teacher Rory is different from Roommate Rory is different from Home Rory is different from Talking To Professor Rory.

No.

I like to think that while I may adopt a different tone or be required to wear different clothing for certain situations, I am still seen as the same person at any time.

Even if it means that I trip over myself, wear kooky earrings, dance awkwardly from sheer happiness, laugh uproariously, staunchly defend my views, stay in on weekends, not do well on a test, cry over fictional characters, and most of all be content with my decisions (right down to eating a fourth cookie).

The oddities are what make me unique. The imperfections that I sometimes wish I could ignore make me real.

One of the problems of going to a school that places emphasis on students who are the ideal is that those who don’t quite make it get ignored. Even worse, those who are on the opposite side of the spectrum feel even more alienated. The blind rationalization of stereotypes perpetuates a negative social culture on campus. Boxing people into definitions is “safe,” it means that we don’t have to give people time to get to know them, to make them feel valued. But isn’t being valued what this is all about? “Cura Personalis” “Care for the Whole Person.” How can we care for others if we don’t even care for ourselves?

I know, I know, these are really big issues. You probably wish I’d go back to talking about apples and art. But this is what I’m thinking about and I’m supposed to write about what I think.

So:

The word of the day is Authenticity. Use it in a sentence. Use it in your life.

Know it, accept it, learn it, be it.