“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ~ Brene Brown
Lately life feels like I’m perpetually trying to fold a fitted sheet – frustrating and confusing. I do my best, but it still looks crazy.
I’ve been in a challenging period for a while now, feeling very uncertain. Among other things, I’m job hunting, which in my experience is always a nightmare. From being passed over for jobs I could do in my sleep, to getting the run around or, just not hearing back at all. The whole process has felt evil and tortuous. And to make it worse I don’t have close relationships. The lack of that kind of support can make any difficult situation rise to level ten on the suck-o-meter. I’m a soldier, but even soldiers get tired and need a little care. So, it’s been tough. Navigating transition is typically tricky emotionally, psychologically and often even physically. Prolonged stress takes a toll on everything.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had awesome random breakouts, an unstable appetite and vampire-like sleep habits. There have been days where getting out of bed has felt like a major victory. The other challenge of being in a stressful transition is pretending everything is ok when it’s really not. Putting on a brave front and facing the world can be exhausting. I do it when I must, but I’ve also decided to be honest with people about my current experience. I’ve been experimenting with allowing myself to be vulnerable. When some people I know ask how I’m doing, I tell the truth. “Things are a bit challenging right now.” I’ve had some interesting results.
As I’ve become more aware of human behavior I’ve noticed that many people just don’t know how to receive vulnerability. Many are really uncomfortable with uncomfortable truth. I told one man I know I’m job hunting and he immediately asked, “Well what are you looking for?” an automatic response that wasn’t backed with genuine concern. When I told him he just kind of said, “Okay” and shook his head indicating he had no leads. I told him it was fine and he said, “Well I’m not trying to solve your problem for you.” Yeah, it got weird fast. I told another man I know and he joked, telling me that if I’m having a hard time emotionally it’s going to be hard to motivate others here on Carbon. Yeah, like I hadn’t thought of that. I later told him that I would have appreciated a more sensitive response. He admitted he uses humor to deflect uncomfortable moments. But he then invited me to his networking event. I went and had a great time.
Being honest about how his comment made me feel, I think, allowed him to see me, and therefore not dismiss me. I became a person, not just a body in passing. And he in turn felt safe to admit he doesn’t handle vulnerability well. My honesty created a genuine connection. I had a couple of other amazing moments too.
To cut down on expenses I went to cancel my gym membership. I really didn’t want to because exercise helps to alleviate stress, but I felt it was necessary. I saw the really nice guy who’s helped me in the past and told him what I needed.
Gym guy: Why are you leaving? Tell me!
Me: I can’t really talk about it. I just need to.
Gym guy: Why?
Me: If you keep asking me I’m going to cry. Do you want me to cry?
Gym guy: No. I want you to stay. What can I do?
He offered me a free month.
Me: I hope I can stay motivated to come. Depression is hard.
Gym guy: Yeah, but coming here helps.
Me: …You know about that?
Gym guy: I do…
Me: You do?
Gym guy: Yes.
Me: Thank you.
Gym guy: You’re welcome.
Me: I feel like people don’t have these conversations often enough.
Gym guy: I agree. Maybe if people had more open conversations it would’ve helped me earlier this year. Now go work out.
He not only took care of me, but he shared. He opened up. I took the risk to be open with him about something difficult and he reciprocated. It was a beautiful moment. I had another similar experience.
I was talking with a young woman I know who works at a thrift boutique I like about my exhaustive job search and my feelings of uncertainty. She could tell I wasn’t ok. She jumped in and said, “We’re going to handle this. You’re not alone.” The next day she messaged me on Instagram with a job opportunity her former classmate shared on LinkedIn. I called and talked to her colleague about the job and felt hopeful that it could be a good fit. I’ve also opened up on social media, going against the trend to pretend that life is perfect. I’ve had some extremely thoughtful responses.
Two women on Instagram offered support. One gave me her number to call if I need to. And one, a career coach asked me to email her. And when I forgot, she messaged me to remind me. I find that incredible. It’s amazing to me to receive the kind of support I’ve given to others. I think often times good-hearted people feel as if they don’t get the love back. It’s there, but it can be rare. None of these heart lifting moments would have happened if I had pretended everything was fine. You don’t have to pretend. But so many of us do because it feels safer.
I remember working with a black woman years ago and whenever I asked her how she was doing, she always answered, “Great”, somewhat stone faced. Clearly, she was not great. But she didn’t feel comfortable or safe to share what was weighing on her heart. I suspect she may have been disappointed in the past with responses that didn’t honor her vulnerability. I also believe she may have been coping like so many people of color who instinctively sport a coat of armor to go out into the world, prepared for any level of conflict, feeling unsafe to display any perceived weakness. It’s a difficult and exhausting defense mechanism many of us have utilized. We shut off our feelings to survive. I’ve decided I deserve to be human, and to be viewed as human.
Being vulnerable isn’t easy. And it’s not safe to share with everyone. Everyone cannot honor your heart. But there are people out there who get it, who will listen and respond with compassion. Some people may require being called out on their less than sensitive reactions, but once aware, may disarm and stop deflecting their own vulnerability to respond to yours. This is hard love, but worth it.
You deserve to be human. You deserve to be cared for. You deserve to be loved. Be cautious with who you share yourself with. Not everyone deserves to hear your story, but there are some gems out there. When possible, take a calculated risk and share how you’re feeling. Be seen and let the good show up for you.