Sam knew he was out of his element. As he skated around the hockey rink, he forgot the little he knew about the game. He felt all the eyes of the spectators, his teammates and his opponents focus on his ineptitude. He was completely and utterly vulnerable.
Griffin had never felt like this about someone else before. She was all he could think about. And yet, as much as he enjoyed his time with her, as much as he felt like she cared for him, he knew that she wielded an incredible power – the power to hurt him. Griffin, too, was entirely vulnerable.
We all know that feeling. It’s a feeling that creeps up on you. It’s that feeling when you realize that you are in a position where you can get hurt. That feeling when you realize you can be embarrassed. It’s frightening, it’s exhilarating and it’s something us humans tend to avoid because we characterize these situations as too risky.
Re-Framing What It Means to Be Vulnerable
Why are we so afraid of vulnerability? To answer this question, we need to understand what vulnerability really is. Vulnerability is often seen as a sign of weakness. Indeed, the “confident” role models in mainstream media never exhibit vulnerability. When was the last time Connor McGregor admitted he was in over his head before a fight? When did LeBron James ever admit that his team is inadequate? But, what goes unreported is this truth: vulnerability has a time and a place, and it exists in everyone. It exists in Connor. And yes, it even exists in LeBron. Vulnerability is not weakness, but rather the courage to accept responsibility for the inadequacies and imperfections in one’s life. When Sam is playing hockey competitively for the first time, he has two options: he can make a fear-based decision and leave the game, or he can stay in the game and accept that there is a probability that he will make a fool of himself. Similarly, Griffin can end his relationship or distance himself in an attempt to soften the blow when he is inevitably hurt by his partner, or he can accept that possibility of pain as inevitable. Both Sam and Griffin maximize their probabilities of pain and embarrassment by remaining in their positions, but here’s the thing: being vulnerable is not entirely negative. In fact, it confers a profound benefit.
The Benefits of Being Vulnerable
Presumably, Sam has chosen to play the game of hockey because he loves it. He is willing to play against competition that is much more comfortable and proficient at the game. He is willing to suck, so that he can play the game he loves. As we have explored, this puts him in a vulnerable position. But, it is the only way forward. It is the only way Sam will ever improve at hockey. It is the only way Sam can ever play the game he loves at a competitive and stimulating level. Vulnerability is the means by which Sam achieves his hockey-related goals and overcomes his fear of embarrassment.
Griffin, too, has much to gain from his vulnerable position. Griffin may not realize that by being in a romantic relationship with someone who cares for him, he too wields a certain power. His girlfriend is also in a vulnerable position in relation to him. And through this deep understanding that both parties carry a certain influence, intimacy is born. Vulnerability is the currency that must be exchanged for true companionship.
Think back to some of your most life-altering and significant moments. That moment when you and your friend became best friends. That conversation with your parents that has stuck with you for years. That time you showed your talent in front of the whole school. That time you stood up for someone you love. These were all moments where you were vulnerable – and yet, they were moments that were truly great. Greatness is born out of the courage that it takes to accept your vulnerability. It’s time we shouldered it with pride.
“Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset.” – Stephen Russell