How to avoid the trap.
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Vulnerability. Authenticity. Courage. Imperfection. By now, most all of us have heard the importance of embracing these states and qualities when it comes to communicating with others. We get that “fake it ‘till you make it” doesn’t really work anymore. We get that when exemplified, displaying a distinct ownership over these traits can be the gateway to breaking through barriers that have otherwise held us back with people for years—sometimes an entire lifetime.
However, as with anything pure, once commercialized past a particular threshold, virtues barrel right into cliché. They devolve into tips, hacks, quick wins, or something to apply to improve a situation. They become something inherently selfish, meant for consumption, as opposed to the contribution they are meant to be for others. They become the exact opposite of what they actually are in essence.
Take vulnerability for instance: it’s defined as the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. On the surface, you may not see how aiming to be vulnerable as a means of generating success or fulfillment is actually paradoxical to the nature of it.
However, if you look closer and take into account just how often vulnerability is highlighted as something we should cultivate, you’ll see that the attempt to cultivate it is actually the antithesis of its definition.
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Much like humility, when you’re trying to be vulnerable, you’re not actually being vulnerable. Vulnerability happens on its own when you’re committed to something bigger than trying to be vulnerable. What you’re actually doing is trying to look good (à la a reverse psychology of sort)— something that’s always at play, for that matter.
Looking good is a function of protection, a product of the wiring of the subconscious mind. Any time we know we’re about to come in contact with others, the switch is flipped—and often unknowingly. It’s an explanation as to why I’ve failed so miserably at relationships where I’m actually interested in the other person — I’m trying to occur a certain way for them, and therefore not being vulnerable, not being authentic, not being who I really am. Their B.S. meter trips like a smoke alarm, and I’m left alone wondering what the hell happened.
So how am I supposed to deal with this? Especially when this response to others is essentially automatic?
I had to get — and I encourage you to get for yourself — that I’m always trying to look good for others. It’s part of being human. It’s our survival mechanism. If we look bad, we’re at risk, making our identity extremely confronted and upset.
So we aim to look good, often unbeknownst at a conscious level — so imperceptible that if we peel the onion back far enough, we’ll become more and more confused as to who we actually are at the core.
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So where’s the silver lining? How does vulnerability actually ensue? How can we leverage all these powerful, yet seemingly bare virtues if we cannot access them without people thinking we’re full of shit?
I’d like to defer back to the definition of vulnerability once more: the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
The reason vulnerability is leveraged and marketed in such a way is because it establishes the one thing that’s not food, water, or sleep that we cannot survive without in this world.
And that’s trust.
Yes, vulnerability, authenticity, courage, owning your imperfections, telling one on yourself, apologizing, taking responsibility, honoring your word, anything remotely in that conversation is a function of establishing trust.
Trust — real trust — is giving someone access or ammunition to completely and utterly destroy you, and thinking highly enough of them to believe they won’t pull the trigger.
This is why authentic and unabashed vulnerability makes such a tremendous difference: it can create a mountain of trust in the time it takes to lace up your hiking boots.
It opens the door, lets people in and creates a safe space. It gives them the necessary room to distinguish for themselves their own game of “looking good all the time” that’s at play and step out of it to be who they actually are for a change.
And therein lies the opportunity for yourself — the moment you discover you’re trying to be vulnerable or sharing something for a superfluous, self-promoting reason, shut up and recommit yourself to something bigger.
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In closing, vulnerability is awesome, beautiful, and necessary for a wonderful life. But don’t try to be vulnerable. It’ll land about the same way as that time when you tried not to piss someone off in a tough conversation and ended up pissing them off. You were focused on yourself instead of being straight with them and delivering the communication that could make a difference. Vulnerability is very much on that same wavelength.
Despite the common opinion, vulnerability is not actually for you. Sure, it’s an access to you being yourself, which is beautiful thing and something I don’t want to diminish whatsoever.
But the true value, if we’re playing a bigger game, is the access it creates for others.
The gift it can be for people to have the freedom to be whoever’s behind their precautionary curtain.
So be yourself.
Just be that way for the sake of being that way — not for your own personal benefit.
You’ll benefit plenty.
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