Grateful to be vulnerable. That sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Vulnerability is not something that we often celebrate. And I think that’s a shame. Why do we sometimes experience a mental block? Do we realise that when we let fear guide us, we’re keeping ourselves away from luck?
Bréne Brown has been a massive inspiration for me in this regard, partly because she’s – like me – a scientist. She specialised in research into human shame. She writes in the book ’The gifts of imperfection’: “Joy and gratitude can be very vulnerable and intense experiences. We are an anxious people and many of us have very little tolerance for vulnerability. Our anxiety and fear can manifest as scarcity. We think to ourselves:
- I’m not going to allow myself to feel this joy because I know it won’t last.
- Acknowledging how grateful I am is an invitation for disaster.
- I’d rather not be joyful than have to wait for the other shoe to drop.”
I think that the thoughts above are recognisable for so many people. They definitely were for me. So much so, that I burst into tears when I read this for the first time, a few years back.
She then continues: “Most of us have experienced being on the edge of joy only to be overcome by vulnerability and thrown into fear. Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss.”
I had to reread those sentences a few times to ultimately interpret it as follows: it’s essential to acknowledge, experience, accept and ultimately bear your feelings of vulnerability and fear, to be able to convert those feelings into gratitude. Only after we’ve been able to make that transition, we will be able to experience intense feelings of love without fear of loss (and hence fear of sorrow). How that looks in your day-to-day life according to her? By completing this sentence: “I’m feeling vulnerable because of ____________. That’s okay. I’m so grateful for ____________.”
When a fellow biologist and close friend of mine came home with a dangerous type of malaria I completed the sentence as follows: “I feel vulnerable because she is so sick and it make me aware of the dangers we face in our job as a wildlife biologist. That’s okay. I’m so grateful for a job that gives me so much purpose and satisfaction.”
Do you recognise this? Those feelings of vulnerability, fear? And if you would force yourself to face those vulnerabilities, in which way would you be able to be grateful for it? Which lesson does it teach you?