I was once friends with a woman who fell in love, hard, in a way that made what she'd thought was love seem pale and watery in comparison. She was married at the time, so was he; inconveniently, not to each other. The weird thing was, she was so happy that I was actually happy for her. "I know this is all going to blow up in my face," she confided, "and I don't care." She had gone from being the person with the perfect life to being completely vulnerable, a beating heart laid bare. In the end it did all blow up in her face and you know what? She was okay. She still is.
On the last day of last year, researcher Brene Brown tweeted, "What is vulnerability? It sounds like courage and feels like truth."
I've been reading Brown's tweet over and over, wanting to soak in all its meanings. (You know, typical reaction to a tweet!) What does it take to be happy? A perfect life? My friend had a perfect life--great job, sweet husband, a plan for children--but she was never happier than when she became terrifyingly vulnerable. According to Brown, who researches vulnerability, this strange, under-appreciated characteristic seems to link people who have, as she puts it, "a strong sense of worthiness and love and belonging, vs the people who really struggle for it."
Brown's tweet seems an important message to carry into the new year, particularly when coupled with Brown's great talk from TEDxHouston, in which she reveals the importance of vulnerability and talks about how she reluctantly pinpointed that the happiest, fullest, most contented people she'd interviewed all embraced vulnerability.
"Courage," Brown said in the TEDx talk, "the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language -- it's from the Latin word cor, meaning heart -- and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect... And the last was they had connection, and -- this was the hard part -- as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection." Brown goes on to say, "The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful."
If vulnerability is the courage to seek the truth of a person or a situation or oneself, is what allows us to know ourselves, to fully connect with others, then maybe what we could all use in the new year is a healthy dose of (frightening, unsettling, risky) vulnerability.