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.”

Tying It All Together: Sunday Morning Questions, Thoughts, and Fears

One of the things I’ve always valued and loved about the weekends is the Breakfast Ritual. It could be Saturday or Sunday, really, but I feel Sundays are better suited for this. Here are the basics:

  1. Wake up without an alarm. It sets a nice unrushed feel to the day.
  2. Tiptoe around the room so as not to wake your roommate.
  3. Listen to The Dallas String Quartet and Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra as you do the dishes.
  4. Make (strong) coffee and a bowl of Marshmallow Mateys (ShopRite’s version of Lucky Charms)
  5. Sit. Eat. Think. Ask Why?
  6. Repeat step five for as long as you care to sit in solitude enjoying the quiet. Or until your roommates get up.

That is the start to a good morning. Just contemplating your life, thinking about what you want to do, not what you have to do, and ruminating why you chose the paths you did as the coffee kicks in.

Today, my Sunday morning questioning takes the form of this writing, and I’ve just hit all the marshmallows in the bottom of my bowl (I like to save the best for last).

I know asking really vague questions isn’t as fun as other things, or as comfy as staying in your nice warm bed. But sometimes it’s good to let your mind wander and take an uncharted and unplanned course. Which has led me to thoughts of yesterday afternoon.

I met with the same group of friends who gathered to talk about what authenticity is, but this time we focused on why people have trouble being authentic.

Why are we so afraid to be our true selves?
Why do we find the need to prescribe to societal standards that don’t always reflect our true inclinations or beliefs?
Why are we intimidated by letting people in?
Why are we afraid of being open or practicing self-acceptance?

The answers that come to mind without thinking are the ones most likely to be true. Peoples’ responses yesterday: Fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of not being accepted for who we are. And the list goes on …

Those words: ridicule, rejection, acceptance, all bring me back to middle school bullies and trying to change who I was in high school (it took me a couple years to realize how much I was hurting myself and those around me in a fruitless battle to be “cool”). I’m 20 and I still have the fears of a 13-year-old. Please tell me I’m not the only one.

If I’m not the only one, then shouldn’t it be easier to reach out and connect with others, who undoubtedly want to feel like they belong at this school just as much as I do? Or is this a larger social problem, something that is impossibly huge and scary and multi-generational? Maybe it’s a combination of both.

Spiked hair on a Sunday

Confession: If I felt that people were more open, I'd probably spike my hair more frequently.

Self crossword - the missing letter is a T, by the way

You can't tell who a person really is just by looking at them. You have to ask and listen. Don't be afraid to initiate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know I don’t have the answers to all these questions, and I’m not asking you to, either. I also know I don’t have perfect solutions. But I have an idea about the (possibly subconscious) intimidation of others.

When you walk over the bridge on Charles St, or through College Center, unglue your eyes from your phone or iPod and look at people as you walk by. Smile and wave. Ask how they’re doing and mean it. Show interest in their life and well-being; they will reciprocate. You don’t have to go out of your way to be present to others. Just a nod will do. I know I’m not the best at this; sometimes I miss a wave or “Hey’” because my earbuds are in, but I’m trying to get better.

One thought and smile at a time.