“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of the deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; 

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”  – Taken from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” and an excerpt from Brene Brown’s, “Daring Greatly”

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Nothing has tested my character more like becoming vulnerable has.  It’s one of those attributes that I can hide the easiest from everyone except myself.  It will gnaw at you and have you presenting empty smiles that are hollow and words that are perfidious.  To not incorporate vulnerability into your daily walk will cause you to watch life versus truly live it, so today I attempt to shed some light on this well-kept secret we all hold close to our hearts.

First let me start by saying, if you have never read the book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, by Brene Brown PhD, I highly recommend it. She definitely speaks to many of the core issues that affect men and women alike regarding the topic of vulnerability.

It’s often said that boys aren’t suppose to cry and as a boy I was constantly reminded of this alleged fact.  So I tried real hard to keep my emotions in check as I understood them, but if I can recall correctly, I failed miserably at this, as much as I tried.  Therefore I was labeled a “cry baby”.   As much as I did not have the ability to control this area of my life, I also learned much later that something else was happening simultaneously that I equally could not control.  The impacts of consistently telling a kid not to cry, stay strong or don’t be weak, over the duration of their childhood will have devastating results on that child’s development. If vulnerability were a measurement (which I believe it is) of how safe we feel to be our true selves, than that young person (me) was slowly losing that desire and ability because I learned through others and normal life pressures that no matter how real my emotions were, they were not to be expressed.  “Lock it up (your emotions), quit acting like a girl, keep your chin up and never let them see you as weak.”  These are some of the common phrases that kids hear growing up, amongst many more that are demeaning by definition.

So there I was, becoming hardened at a young age and didn’t even realize it.  Not only did I adopt those detrimental thoughts and ideas as my own, but I would also perpetuate them, therefore almost promising that the vicious cycle would continue.  Years later, I never would have realized how those seemingly harmless traits would grow and root deeply into every sphere of my life.  How about for you?  When did you lose that sense of being a kid running figuratively free in the fields?  When did you learn to keep your emotions in check because someone told you it wasn’t what you were suppose to do?  More importantly when did you begin to live this way without anyone having to say anything to you at all?  That is truly the day when a significant part of you went dormant or perhaps even died.

For a moment imagine the times in your life when you explored things and weren’t afraid to have an opinion or a voice that you were certain mattered to the world, at least your world.  A time when fear was not a part of your vocabulary or formula for making decisions.  For some, there is not a time you can recall that this was not true.  A sad, yet certainly common truth for many.

Two days ago my 10 year-old was messing around on her iPad and decided to share with me what she was doing.  She created a movie of herself being a newscaster.  As I watched her speak with confidence saying, “this is Alena on ABC news”, (click to watch) I saw a girl who had no fear, a child that believed in herself and was having fun doing it.  In that moment I could have told her how silly it was or criticized her for parts that weren’t perfect in my eyes or I could just watch in awe and encourage her to do it again, and again, and again because it was awesome.  Thankfully, I chose the latter and was encouraged by her inherent ability to be vulnerable, but I must admit her moment also reminded me of my own inability or fear to become open at times.  I remembered myself as that kid, learning quite the opposite.  Not because I had bad parents, but because that’s just the way it was in life, period.

To understand the science and research on this topic, again I encourage you to read Dr. Brown’s book, but what I have is my story.  A story that is intertwined with the ups and the downs that helped me to understand why my own choice to become vulnerable is often a challenge. But as Dr. Brown states in her book,

Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

In other words what we ultimately accomplish in life as parents, spouses, lovers, friends, siblings and leaders will be determined by the many layers we choose to peel back and express what is at the core as our true selves.  However our lives may come across to others, the decision to not peel back the layers will not only deny who you are, but equally stifle him/her.  Then sadly, all the world sees is a shadow of who you are, a shadow of what you think and a shadow of who you were created to be.  You’re essentially living behind your authentic self and the world will miss the real you!  The you with the best ideas and most important thoughts. The you with that silly laugh and smile, but can bring a group to ease without any real effort. The you that is quirky, but knows how to bring a smile to anyone’s face.  The you that seeks out that quiet kid in the back of the room afraid, because that was you as well once upon a time.  The you that was often criticized for everything, but now understands the power of empathy and humility.  The you that gains a platform where most will never be welcomed because you get it!  The you that others deemed as weird or different, but has an auspiciously authentic way to tell a story that penetrates even the hardest of hearts.  You see, no one can quite deliver your message like you can. You were born with it and you own it!  It can not be duplicated and delivered with the same intensity or passion from someone else.  It is what will connect you to your world.

“Connection is why we’re here.  We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives us purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering” – Brene Brown, PhD

So where do we go from here?  Is it possible to begin to live a life of vulnerability as an adult who did not for the majority of his life?  As a living example, I say yes!  My choice to publish a blog is completely about vulnerability.  Just because one can write about something does not necessarily mean you have mastered the subject at-hand yourself.  For example, being married twice does not necessarily qualify me to advise someone on marriage, however my choice to become vulnerable about the topic equally does not disqualify me either.  It simply means that I believe in what I have, who I am and that I have the confidence to bring it forth.  The outcome is no longer the goal, it’s the doing, the choice to step on to the stage and do the work.  That is what truly matters.  

So, let them say what they must, because like them, you were also once a critic of the ones making it happen and daring greatly in life.  And like them, there was significant part of you that envied the ones that made the decision to become vulnerable.  In those moments, as I have watched people passionately, authentically and powerfully deliver a life changing message with their lives, not just their words I am forever encouraged by the sheer courage exemplified in their beings as God’s creation.

Keep Pressing,

Hank G