As 2017 comes to a close, I have spent hours in reflection. It has been a big year in many ways. I have laughed, cried, lost, hurt, loved and felt so, so much. All the feelings. It has been a year full of self-discovery, growth and unbecoming.
I wanted to have one word to encapsulate this tumultuous twelve months. “Soul” made a strong case for itself. This year was full of soul fight, and I am endearingly called a soul activist by my close friends. But no, 2017 had another word stamped across its 365 days: vulnerable.
I sat down to write about my word on the same day that Trump’s administration reportedly (that word makes me nervous) released a list of words to be banned from use in the official documents at the CDC. “Vulnerable” was one of the seven words to be cut. When confirmed, that is another blog for another day, but for now, I can recognize and respect that my word is making waves and having a wide-spread impact on American culture as a whole. If vulnerable becomes a banned word, then that says just about all we need to know about the weight it can carry. (And let’s be honest, the thought that the current POTUS despises a word that symbolizes my year feels okay to me.)
But why has this word been so pivotal in my life this year?
In an interview with Krista Tippett for On Being, Brené Brown defined vulnerability.
To me, vulnerability is courage. It’s about the willingness to show up and be seen in our lives. And in those moments when we show up, I think those are the most powerful, meaning-making moments of our lives even if they don’t go well. I think they define who we are.
It has been my year of “showing up.” I have not excelled at anything. There were no promotions, advances, or professional accolades. I did not win any awards or earn degrees. But as Brown states, this year defined me.
Showing up to the meaning-making moments of my life made this a year of deep and intentional transformation. My therapist described a few of my phases as awareness, shifting, and finally, settling or grounding. Vulnerable meant I had to be open -to friends, family, and perhaps most importantly, open to myself. It got real.
While I am happy and proud of my willingness to be vulnerable and share my journey, I have also learned some painful lessons relating to vulnerability. I am unapologetically drawn to honest, open people. I want to be that person myself. Just last week, I was boasting to a friend about how I am such an open book.
“I write about my entire life on the internet!”
He was quick to put me in my place.
“I don’t think you are as open as you think are. I have a really hard time reading you.”
I am a teacher, coach and business owner. I feel pressure to hold it together and embody a healthy, well-balanced state of mind. But this year I did learn that even leaders can be vulnerable. Gabrielle Bernstein, author of The Universe Has Your Back, states that our vulnerability is the most attractive thing about us. I believe this is most likely because it is real. It’s possible (but not easy) to be an open book with boundaries.
I have also learned that I can engage in behavior that makes me vulnerable in an unhealthy way. Social media has the potential to leave me open to some of the nastier sides of human nature - envy and greed. “Do not covet thou neighbor.” That’s like one of the top ten, y’all. I can be fine and happy basking in gratitude...until I see what the rest of the world might be doing, which can potentially turn my mood. I set my sights on keeping up with the virtual Joneses. What a recipe for disaster! I could agree with banning that vulnerability.
But then there is all the beauty I have experienced through becoming vulnerable. The difference between fitting in and belonging makes sense. I show up as me and feel that I belong. What a relief! I cling to my communities where this passionate free spirit can be herself. My writing group, CrossFit community, book clubs, faculty friends, fellow writers, family, husband and two kiddos have put their arms around me and welcomed (even encouraged) my vulnerability. They demonstrated time and time again that they see me, get me and want me to keep showing up.
This year the cheerleader needed some cheering of her own. I prefer to spend my life pouring into other people, but 2017 left me broken and spilled out. I needed to have my bucket filled. The greatest lesson I learned is that when I showed my humanity and brought my struggles to the light, there were so many kind people there ready to reach out and pull me up from the side of the cliff. I had to be the open book I claimed to be. I had to show up as me - wounded and scared - and allow my friends and community members to help carry me through.
“I’m not a mess, but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, ‘For the same reason I laugh so often—because I’m paying attention.’ I tell them that we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide.”