"I need affection from you. Can you just put your hands on my head and give me your touch." There. I had said it. It took all my courage to say these two sentences. But I did. Instantly I felt lighter. There was a voice screaming inside my head saying 'what is he thinking about you'. I ignored that voice and I'm glad I did.
The 'he' here is someone who I look upto as a mentor and a friend. He smiled at me and put his hand on my head. I smiled and felt free.
I like it when you call me just to chat.
You make me feel good, can we hang out together?
I like working with you. Let's work on a project together.
I really wanted to chat with you but you didn't call me. I'm calling you.
I've said these things to people in different relationships. I've asked for what I need from the person, and nine times out of ten (ok, not nine, just eight) I have received. In fact, the other person usually feels grateful and moved that I asked. Once in a while, they didn't respond and I felt pained. But when I look back, the gains have been far greater than the pains.
How vulnerable should one be?
How freely should one speak what is in one's heart and mind?
What if I say too much?
What if I expose my inner self too much and the other person takes advantage of me?
What if I get rejected, or worse still what if I get betrayed?
We are taught to believe that showing what you really feel is weakness. It opens the doors to let other people exploit you. You are prone to attack. People who keep their cards close to their chest and keep a 'poker face' are glorified.
We are expected to be strong, fearless, brave, and icy cold.
We are expected to wear a protective armour that prevents us from getting hurt by the daggers that the world throws at us.
The truth is that when we slip out of our self-protective armour, we’re saying, "Here is all of me - the parts where you can love me and the parts where you can hurt me."
It is very scary.
But, both experience and research say that when it comes to long-term happiness, the risk is worth the payoff.
The first step toward friendship — deep friendship — is vulnerability. True friendship requires a terrific amount of emotional exposure. With it, comes risk and possible rejection. But it also comes with the likelihood that someone else knows exactly what you’re feeling.
The only way to be deeply known, is to allow yourself to be deeply seen.
We are always lying, hiding, or omitting something. We feel like imposters in our own bodies. In the worst cases, this behaviour leads to debilitating anxiety and depression.
Why are we doing this? Why are we accepting this behaviour in ourselves and each other?
Because the opposite reality — in which we are authentically ourselves — is equally terrifying. It requires diving into the edges of our discomfort and jumping into the pools of uncertainty.
We must be, wait for it… VULNERABLE.
Say what absolutely terrifies you
What's the worst that can happen? What do you really really not want to happen? What possibility plays and replays in the background of your mind all the time? Say it aloud. Write it down. Tell someone. But say it. An untold story spreads like cancer. It will eat you up from inside unless you let it out.
Say the thing that no one else says
People don’t normally admit when they’ve messed up, or been scared, gotten into trouble, felt hurt or rejected, had a fit of rage, felt taken for granted, or even lied. Ask for what you want, say how you want to be treated, and tell them what makes you happy. Say it. Let them know what is going on inside you.
Do what you think you can't
There is deep vulnerability in doing something new or putting out your work or taking on a challenge that is outside your comfort zone. You might fail, your might get ridiculed, your might lose something precious. Some things are worth doing even if you don't get the end result.
The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
Brene Brown is an American professor, author and podcast host who has researched, written and spoken extensively about the power of vulnerability.
Here are some quotes on vulnerability by Brene Brown:
Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.
To create is to make something that has never existed before. There is nothing more vulnerable than that.
Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.
Situations when you should be careful of how vulnerable you let yourself be:
- In a negotiation where one wins and one loses
- When you don't trust the other person's intentions or honesty
- You are not looking for a long term association
- If you have been recently hurt and just recovering
- When you are feeling angry or vengeful
While I'm telling you to be vulnerable and open yourself, I don't want you to break either. It's no point getting so hurt that it takes a long time to recover. So please, be careful. Write to me if you have a particular situation you feel like sharing.
I don't want you to force yourself to be vulnerable. Use your own instinct. But think about what is stopping you, or not.
You will never be 100% sure, but if you open yourself, you will slowly learn to trust your gut. It's a painful process. Start with people you love and trust. Your vulnerability muscles will slowly gain strength.
Two types of vulnerability
Being helpless, tired, dependant, having given up, lost, and feeling desperate is passive vulnerability. I give in to whatever comes my way. I have no idea what my options are. I don't understand what the worst case scenario might be and what I might do in that case. I am drunk with desperation and willing to take a chance on anything.
I understand what are the risks, I know I might get hurt, but I also know what is up-side that can emerge. And, I believe it's worth it. It can teach me so much, open new doors, open my heart and make me a better person. I know what I need to do to survive if it does go my way. I will break, I will cry, I will fall, but I know I will stand up again in time. I will emerge stronger. This is active vulnerability.
The willingness to be vulnerable shouldn't driven by the desire for exposure or attention. It should be driven by the possibility of what good may come out of it — be it a meaningful role, the possibility to affect change, and, of course, deep friendship and love.
Don't fall prey to passive vulnerability.
Be vulnerable, but actively.
These are some of the ways we hide from having to be vulnerable:
- Controlling our emotions
- Become distracted with work
- Strive for material success
- Become overly practical and 'logical' about everything
- Focus hugely on looks and physique as a measure of self esteem
Here are a few suggestions to help you get out there more actively and ask for what you need, say what you need to say, and do what you need to do:
- Look at Mel Robbins’ "5 Second Rule." If you count down "5–4–3–2–1" and then do the thing you need to do — dial the phone, say the thing, post the photo, whatever — you can change your whole life. It sounds silly but it works.
- Focus on your intent. What is the intent behind what you are trying to say or do? If you know the intent, then you won’t (a) be harmed if other people judge you, and (b) you’ll meet your intent without the approval of others.
- Do it if it feels right in your soul. If you are looking for attention, you might not get it. So don’t share your story or do something crazy for that. If you are doing it as an act to inspire or serve, to let yourself be out or open, to set an example, then there is no way you could possibly be disappointed. What you say and do will only bring peace to you.
- Do something NOW. Not later. Do it while you’re feeling the need.
Ok, so being vulnerable is good for relationships and for connecting with people. But did you imagine that even as an entrepreneur, having the ability to get into vulnerable territory.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review reinforces Brown’s research and describes vulnerability as the defining trait of great entrepreneurs.
We are always striving to nurture a culture of active vulnerability at the Enterprise India Fellowship. I love encouraging all our student-partners to share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. I do it myself all the time. People who want to change the world must be able dare to share.
Last night I sat with a friend with whom I used to work very closely until a few years ago. I was meeting her after a long time. I asked her 'what is the difference you see between the adi then and the adi now'. She looked at me for a few moments. I could see she was wondering how she should say it. And then she did. 'The adi then was softer. I liked the adi then'. Ouch. It was uncomfortable, but also very beautiful. In that one moment, something inside me changed. Something inside me became softer, gentler and open-er. Transformation can often be instantaneous.
Thank you so much for reading this letter my friend. I learn so much writing to you. I allow myself to open. I allow myself to get empty.
Before you go, here is a song for you.
Whoa, oh, I'm feeling you, baby
Don't be afraid to jump then fall
Jump then fall into me
Baby, I'm never gonna leave you
Say that you wanna be with me too
'Cause I'ma stay through it all
So jump then fall
Maybe you can say this to someone you love!
And here is a question. Write back to me whenever you feel like.
What do you think is the difference between the you of now, and the you of three years ago?