Those who know me well understand how deeply I treasure the experience of relationship-building, personally and professionally. Since I was a kid, I've been a "put it all out there" type when getting to know someone, realizing - even then - that to truly connect, I have to share a part of myself. The way I see it, the only way that two people can craft a meaningful relationship is if they can both arrive in the relationship fully as themselves. This requires a great deal of trust, which is built on a foundation of acceptance of vulnerability.
Brene Brown, a vulnerability researcher, says that vulnerability is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. It's that act of showing up fully as yourself and putting it all out there. When we make ourselves vulnerable, that vulnerability can be met one of two ways: with acceptance or with rejection. When we are creating a relationship and our vulnerability is accepted, voila!, a building block of trust. When our vulnerability is rejected, we feel shame.
Have you ever put a piece of yourself out on the table, whether it's the presentation of an idea at work, a personal desire you share with a loved one or an experience from your past with a new friend, only to have the other person express judgment? How do you feel afterwards? I feel humiliated in those situations. That's shame.
On the flip side, what happens in those same scenarios when your vulnerability is met with acceptance? How do you feel? I feel comfortable and closer with the other person; I am more likely to open up again. That's trust.
Making yourself vulnerable is an act of courage. It's authenticity at its boldest and finest. In some cases, it's defiance, a challenge to the status quo, which repeatedly tells us to show up in whatever manner is most expedient and to expose only the parts of ourselves that fit into a societal definition of digestible, beautiful, acceptable and smooth. That's not a recipe for sustainable wellbeing, fulfillment or growth. It's a recipe for spiritual (and sometimes physical) death.
So as you continue to move through this one wild and precious life (h/t Mary Oliver for that line), move through it as Y-O-U, wild and precious, fully and completely. Keep showing up as yourself. And when shame creeps up, which it will, step back and remind yourself what an incredible feat it is to present your fullest expression, your most authentic self. If you are putting it all on the line, you never have anything to be ashamed of.
One more thing: it's an honor to be on the receiving end of vulnerability. Acknowledge someone's courage. You don't have to like what is being said or even agree with it. But you can always offer recognition, compassion and empathy. Think of how you would want someone to treat you in a moment of vulnerability, and go from there. And remember: you're enough exactly as you are. Always.
Originally published in The Spark on 11/29/2017.