I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability over the past few weeks. Hm. Actually, I’ve been thinking about vulnerability quite a lot over the past three years. How often do you think about vulnerability? Hm.
Whether you do, or do not, matter less than that we enter into this discussion about what I believe is a pretty cool paradox. Ready?
First, let’s define our key term.
noun /ˌvʌlnərəˈbɪləti/ /ˌvʌlnərəˈbɪləti/[uncountable]
1. vulnerability (of somebody/something) (to something) the fact of being weak and easily hurt physically or emotionally
– the vulnerability of newborn babies to disease
– financial vulnerability
– He was intensely aware of his own vulnerability.
There we go. The paradox, you ask? Well, let’s define that term real quick too.
noun /ˈpærədɒks/ /ˈpærədɑːks/
[countable] a person, thing or situation that has two opposite features and therefore seems strange
– He was a paradox—a loner who loved to chat to strangers.
– It is a curious paradox that professional comedians often have unhappy personal lives.
Alright, let’s go.
Vulnerability As A Paradox
In the aforementioned definition, vulnerability is associated with weakness. Yet, think about a time when you embraced vulnerability, did you feel weak? Hm. Maybe? Maybe not? The point.
Vulnerability is actually strength. It is courage. Here is another definition of vulnerability from a very cool vulnerability scholar.
“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.” BRENÉ BROWN
There we go.
When we are vulnerable, we are entering into a realm that is filled with courage, strength, and empowerment. The more we are vulnerable, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more resilient we become.
There was a time when I had tremendous anxiety. Paralyzing. At that time in my life, I avoided vulnerability. I chose spaces that were familiar, known.
Yet, when we choose comfort over growth, we also choose to continue to get back what we’ve always already had. Yep, for me, continued anxiety.
However, when we choose vulnerability, we become more than we were before, something new. And, in this newness, we also lose some of what we were before. For me? Anxiety. Yep.
The paradox, you ask? Very well. Here we go.
It is inside of being “weak” that our greatest measure of strength and courage show up.
We become more. We feel more. We know more. We are more.
You see strength and weakness are not separate, they are one. Just like vulnerability and resilience. They are two sides of the same coin. You can no more call vulnerability a weakness, than you can call resilience a strength. They just are.
There is weakness inside of resilience, as there is strength and courage inside of vulnerability. Same. The most resilient person will also know weakness, just as the most vulnerable person knows great strength.
Therefore, vulnerability like resilience, just like happiness and sadness, are intertwined, linked. You cannot separate them. For one to occur in the world, the other must also occur.
Here is a cool Ted Talk by Brené Brown on Vulnerability.
What to do?
Embrace your humanity, all of it. Both happiness and sadness, strengths and weaknesses, and vulnerability and resilience. They are all a part of our shared humanity. Embrace them and be with them, free of judgment that one is better or more productive than the other.