It’s an awful feeling to hit your limits and have other people see it. It’s a feeling I’m very familiar with.
Despite how much I’ve overcome, being vulnerable has been a standard state for me as I encounter the daily challenges of living differently from other people. I have a very beautiful girlfriend, but as a man with no legs and one arm, I can’t pick her up and twirl her around. I can’t walk down the beach with her. I can’t help carry the groceries.
It would be easy, even justified, to live focusing on what I don’t have rather than what I do have. I don’t have the luxury of masking my vulnerabilities, and I could live resentful of that. The reality is that most people are just as vulnerable as I am, even if it’s not physical—but they want to hide from it. That’s a dangerous and destructive habit.
Being vulnerable is a strength.
When we feel vulnerable, we often compare ourselves to others and pick ourselves apart. But vulnerability is actually a superpower. Healing can’t happen until you embrace vulnerability. Once you start healing, you can start to communicate in an authentic way.
When was the last time you admitted, “I need help”?
It’s a dynamic that has helped my own relationship immensely. I can sit across from someone who cares for me and say, “I’m feeling insecure. Can you help me work through this?” Or, “Hey, I’m feeling a bit ‘less than’ today. Can you help me work through this?” That’s where real bonds are strengthened.
As kids, we’re taught that vulnerability is weakness: Big boys and big girls don’t cry. This belief hardwires into our thinking, so we separate ourselves from vulnerabilities, refusing to own them. Over time, all of that repressed anger and frustration and sadness can do some incredible damage.
How to embrace being vulnerable
You may immediately relate to that idea, recognizing that you’ve been conditioned to ignore or deny being vulnerable.
So, where do you start reversing the trend?
I’d suggest that the first step is compassion. First, you need to have compassion toward yourself. Compassion also opens you up to the revelation that most people aren’t trying to hurt each other: We’re figuring it out as we go and doing our best. Once you bring awareness to it, you strip away the power of the pattern and regain permission to show up in your own life.
The second step is self-awareness. Even reading this article, you may be waking up to these dynamics in your thinking and relationships. Once you see it, you can watch how it shows up in your life, and then you can start unwiring and rewiring.
The personal and professional benefits
This healing work will impact not just your personal relationships but your professional ones, too.
People are starting to exhibit more vulnerability in the workplace, and it’s a seismic shift. The line between our professional and personal lives is becoming blurred, and we’re starting to see our coworkers and even bosses with more humanity. This can be misused or even turned into a cliché—but it can also be transformative.
Leaders will see breakthroughs when they let people see that they aren’t bulletproof, when they are honest about mistakes or areas of growth and when they create a safe space for other people to be vulnerable. Leaders can pave the way toward a more human workplace, building a thriving and open culture.
If we go through life, hardships and all, and don’t get and give these gifts along the way, then what’s the point?
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo courtesy of Nick Santonastasso.