THE BLOG
02/03/2013 09:12 am ET Updated Apr 05, 2013

Openness vs. Vulnerability

Openness and vulnerability are not the same thing -- and until very recently, I would have begged to differ, and vehemently at that.

For the entirety of my roller-coaster existence, comprised of nearly 29 years so far, I'd say I've always been a "share- er." Talk to my friends and any one of them will vouch for how often I've been known to start a sentence with "This might be TMI, but..." I've pretty much always held the belief that nothing should be off-limits, discussion-wise, with those close to us. We're given the ability as humans to communicate, so we need to talk to figure it all out, right? And oh boy, did I master that -- the talking part, that is. With an outgoing personality, and my gift of gab coupled with a penchant for the dramatic storytelling opportunity, I quickly became a social thesaurus without really realizing it -- talking a whole lot without actually saying much. If anyone asked me the details on an embarrassing event, I'd practically reenact it for them -- in real time and with props, no less. If anyone asked me how I felt about it, then I'd practically have an emotional heart attack, inadvertently changing the subject or asking another question to get the other person to speak again, unless it was via email or something. Digital courage I could easily muster more of. If someone wronged me, I'd always brush it off. Even if someone asked me if I was upset, I'd say no and quietly boil in a stew of disappointment -- I realize now, for fear of being exposed and potentially hurt, or worse yet, not liked. For me, that was a fate worse than death -- and the other side of the vulnerability coin. Hello!

These diverting habits formed quite young for whatever reason (Why? I'm still working on...) and manifested so slowly that I was completely unaware of my pattern. Somehow I had successfully managed to create a world where openness and vulnerability had not only never met, they didn't speak the same language -- until now and thanks to a few life-altering paragraphs from a book I'm currently reading.

First though, a brief point of reference: "Openness" can be defined as "allowing access, passage, or a view through an empty space; not closed or blocked up," (easy, less work for me to keep tabs on), while "vulnerability" can be defined as "susceptible to physical or emotional injury" (I can be as sensitive as they come, so I think I'll stay safe and pass, thanks).

Now back to that book I'm reading and why I can no longer live without vulnerability. Gay Hendricks, author of A Year of Living Consciously: 365 Daily Inspirations for Creating a Life of Passion and Purpose says, "Those 'safe,' protected places you create around your heart -- the ones designed so that no can hurt you -- have one fatal flaw: If no one can hurt you, no one can touch you, either." I read that for the first time and completely froze, breathless.

So often I complained about some sense of total happiness being elusive for me, and for so long, too, I had complained about wanting a deeper connection with people and being unable to find it. Little did I realize, I should have looked in the mirror. You mean I'm largely to blame for that? Mind blown.

While none of us enjoy hurt, Hendricks goes on to write that "you are likely to -- sometimes experience pain as the result of your new connectedness, you will also have the opportunity time and again to experience soaring joy and a degree of good feeling that may well seem unimaginable to the person with the hiding heart." Ok, let me sit down before I re-read that one again, and again, and again.

You might be thinking how obvious this notion is, but I wonder how many of us really in fact embrace both ideas as one -- and how much of our daily lives and the culture we live in, reinforce the separation actually.

While things like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram do a fantastic job of keeping us all informed about each other's daily lives, how connected are we really to the people we care most about and to the world around us? How much richer would our lives be if we picked up the phone instead of texted, hugged instead of "liked," and asked a stranger for directions before Googling them? The phone/hug/stranger-asking thing may be a scarier set of choices vs. the whole texting/"liking"/Googling thing, but let's face it, your smartphone won't keep you warm at night or hold your hand in times of loneliness or sorrow.

There's a final quote from the book I'd like to share. Hendricks says, "Let go of your need to move toward a set end point, to abandon things, to embrace the unfamiliar." Though historically, I am someone who likes to fix things and is now admitting discomfort with uncertainty, unfamiliar is a way of life for me at the moment, for the first time.

In October of last year, I was no longer able to deny a long-developing internal shift, and promptly left my rather high-powered and lucrative career to figure out what my next passion was. Walking out of the office that day with no real plan, I'd never been more scared. Now, I've never been more liberated.

What's funny is, not until recently did I realize me leaving my job in that way was the beginning of this lesson in vulnerability for me. Though I was in a place financially to be able to support myself for a bit without an immediate next step -- money doesn't grow on trees and eventually this ride will end. When or where, I'm not quite sure -- and I'm learning to be okay with that.

I took the first step. Now, it's time to make some phone calls and answer questions head on at the risk of seemingly silly or even worse, not liked. Wish me luck!

For more by J. Kate Franklin, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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