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How Being Vulnerable Can Expand Your World

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” ~Brene Brown

Vulnerability has never been my strong suit. It’s no wonder. In order to be vulnerable, you have to be okay with all of you. That’s the thing about vulnerability that no one tells you about.

Being vulnerable is not just about showing the parts of you that are shiny and pretty and fun. It’s about revealing what you deny or keep hidden from other people. We all do this to some extent. I bet you’ve never said to a friend, “Oh my god, I just love that I’m insecure.”

But that’s the point, isn’t it? You’ve got to love everything, if you want to be vulnerable by choice.

Most of us have probably experienced vulnerability through default. More often than not, we are either forced into that state through conflict, or we are surprised by it after our circumstances feel more comfortable.

Few of us consciously choose vulnerability. Why? The stakes are too high.

If we reveal our authentic selves, there is the great possibility that we will be misunderstood, labeled, or worst of all, rejected. The fear of rejection can be so powerful that some wear it like armor.

My first real experience with vulnerability came when I was twenty-five.

I had just accepted a position as a literature teacher of juniors and seniors at a local high school. This was quite possibly the most intimidating situation I had ever gotten myself into thus far. We’re talking teenagers here, the most extraterrestrial of all age groups!

To make matters worse, I asked my parents for advice. Being longtime elementary school teachers, my parents had a plethora of horror stories to share about unruly students, unreasonable parents, and teachers who could not control their classrooms.

Each story ended with, “And that’s why she quit and ended up going into retail.”

I didn’t want to be a quitter, so I listened well when they told me that I needed to be strong from the get-go, that I needed to show my students who was boss.

In the words of my father, “You can be a bitch and work your way down to nice, but you can’t be nice and work your way up to being strong.”

I took my parents’ advice to heart. In the first week, I flunked seventy-five percent of my students on the summer reading exam. I yelled a lot to control the classroom environment.

And when my students would complain about an assignment, I would say to them, “Remember, this class is not a democracy, it’s a monarchy and guess who’s queen?”

When I read those words now, I can’t help but cringe.

But at the time, I believed vulnerability was a liability. I was okay with being the dragon lady. It was safe.

And under that façade, no one knew how terrified I actually was. So I wore that armor as if my life depended on it.

If I had my way, I would have kept my guard up for the rest of that year. But my students were much smarter than me. They must have known on some level that, in the presence of true vulnerability, no one could remain closed off.

Perhaps no event demonstrated this better than when the senior honors project was in jeopardy.

It was not traditional curriculum, and thus it came under scrutiny. My seniors were visibly upset because they had worked so hard on their group papers, and they were looking forward to their presentations in which faculty from the school as well as from the university would be present.

When they expressed their feelings so honestly and openly, I could not turn away. Now, I wanted to fight not only for the project but for the students themselves.

When I thought we would have no choice but to abandon the whole thing, I remember telling my students that I wanted to quit. For the first time, I was very honest with them about how I was feeling and what I wanted for them.

I was, perhaps, the most vulnerable I had been all year. And that moment of vulnerability paid off big time.

When I left the school at the end of the year, I received many letters from my students. In them, I discovered that they were touched by the fact that I had fought so hard for them, that I was honest with them, and that I believed in them so passionately.

At the time, I probably said to the universe something like, “Ah! You tricked me! This was supposed to be just a temporary job until my real life began. I wasn’t supposed to invest in anyone or be committed to anything or care about anyone.”

But I was very connected to these students long before I even knew I was. Needless to say, they got their senior project. But I received something so much greater. I learned what vulnerability looked like and felt like. And I was the recipient of all its rewards.

Over the years, I have continued to experience that place of vulnerability. I cannot say that all my experiences have come through choice, but I do try to enter that state as much as I can.

While I am far from being an expert on this subject, I have come to some conclusions that I hope will be meaningful to those who want to choose vulnerability:

1. Vulnerability is so much easier when you love yourself.

Think about it. When you don’t love all of you and are afraid to show people the less than stellar parts, the space between you and vulnerability is like the Grand Canyon. You will need all the courage you can get to make the leap across.

But when you love yourself, and I mean all of you, you don’t worry so much if someone else doesn’t. And when you’re less afraid of rejection, you step right into that place of openness.

2. Vulnerability takes practice.

You don’t just learn it once and then—ta-dah!—you’re easily open to everything and everyone. My experience at the high school was very profound, but even now, many years later, I still have moments where I’m more guarded and less willing to share the real me.

Thank goodness life continues to give me opportunities to consciously choose openness. And most times, I do.

3. The rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable.

When I have chosen to be open, to show my authentic self, my students have met me there. And when they’ve met me there and formed that connection, there’s nothing they can’t accomplish.

With vulnerability, you experience true connection—true love for yourself—and you begin to attract people to you who are inspired by your openness.

While it’s not easy to be vulnerable, you’d be surprised how loving all of you and then sharing it with another can help you to connect with anyone. In my own life, I’m continuing to open up to my students.

I’ve been showing them a little more of the complexity that is me. They now know the ugly truth that I don’t do math. They know that whenever I need to half a recipe, my twelve-year-old nephew does the fractions for me.

Shameful? Perhaps. But you know what? I like that girl and in the end, so do my students.


Photo by mikebaird.

Avatar of Wendy Miyake

About Wendy Miyake

Wendy Miyake is an author, teacher and lover of life's journey. Her new life's motto is: If everything were perfect, you wouldn't remember anything. Follow her new blog: momochanconquerstheworld.com and look for her future children's picture book on loss entitled, The Sky Blanket.

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  • Anifer

    Thank you so much for this post!
    I know you guys probably get this all the time… that the insight you provide goes perfect with whatsoever is going on in the lives of your readers at the moment, and yes, it really does!!

    All the things you guys have shared recently have helped me so much throughout his transformation period we are all going through.

    I want to truly thank you for this.

    <3

  • ErinLanahanMethod

    Awesome Wendy! I too have come to similar conclusions around self-love and vulnerability. I love that you shared this and are shining the light for others. Bravo! :-) xo
    Erin

  • Swood

    Great article– your writing is always such a pleasure to read.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Swood!

    This is actually Wendy’s first post on Tiny Buddha. A lot of people don’t realize this, but I publish posts from different writers every week. I also loved this post. It’s so freeing to let yourself show your true feelings.

    Have a wonderful day!
    Lori

  • Cat Li Stevenson

    Wendy~

    Wonderful post. Growing up in a traditional, asian home, vulnerability was often viewed as a weakness. If I proved to be vulnerable instead of resilient, there was this air of disappointment.

    It’s funny how much we have to un-learn life as we evolve…

    I couldn’t agree with you more: that vulnerability, transparency and being honest with ourselves is a liberating journey. It’s something that I practice daily, as I often still catch myself with the ego-guard up :)

    ~Cat

  • PeacefulSoraya

    Yes :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1527801928 Wendy Miyake

    Cat–
    It’s so nice to have another asian woman understand how difficult vulnerability can be especially when you add in that cultural element :) I love that line when you said that we have to un-learn life as we evolve because that’s exactly what it feels like sometimes. Let’s continue to practice vulnerability and honor everything that makes us, well, us. Thanks so much for your comment!
    Wendy

  • http://twitter.com/wendymiyake wendy miyake

    Thank you, Erin!

  • http://profiles.google.com/hayduke2000 Michael Lewis

    Everyone is vulnerable, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. If we try to hide part of our self, we reveal our hiding.

    Being our selves, we no longer fear vulnerability, as we have nothing to hide.

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  • Intrigued Reader

    I, like the reader, have read Brene Brown and have had my mind blown by her insights.  However, we live in a fallen world, and in said fallen world, vulnerability can get you kicked in the teeth at best.  Why is there no discussion of what to do (especially in terms of self care) in the wake of vulnerability just making things worse?

  • Jfkohli

    Thanks for your post. I appreciate the advice to love yourself first, making the grand canyon to vulnerability less frightening. I will use your advice and continue to work on that.

  • Michelle

    Thank you.

  • Wendy

    I was actually searching “how not to be vulnerable” and found your post. I was not going to read but then I saw your name and knew I was supposed to read it. Thank you much I feel better now

  • http://wiscuss.com/ Jameson Wittman

    Nice thought..

  • Rachel Magnusson

    I love this site and I love that you make yourself vulnerable with every post. You are an neat lady indeed.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Rachel! My name is Lori and I run this site. I wasn’t sure if you noticed that the site features posts from lots of different people. I always appreciate how open writers are in sharing their experiences and insights. Like Wendy wrote, with vulnerability we experience true connection!

  • Stephanie

    Great post and advice. Going to start putting it into practice!

  • Virginia Lee

    When I was working as an actor/singer, being vulnerable on stage and at auditions was my normal. Now, twenty years later, after having had to be so strong while going through all sorts of changes/madness/caregiving/etc., I find letting my vulnerability show is difficult. This is why I googled: I dislike showing my vulnerability. This piece is the first one I clicked upon.

    Thank you for writing it. I really need this today. Blessings to you and your’n.

  • April

    “WHOS QUEEN?!”

    Lol, it reminded me of blackadder :):)

  • Jay Neal

    This post was very interesting. As I began to look up “being vulnerable” , I didn’t believe I would find anything that would really help. As a young black male, being vulnerable happens on daily basis. I am also homosexual and have guarded myself so much, even though I’ve recognized I am what I am. I tend to put up “that armor” that you mentioned wendy. And don’t let the real me shine. I thank you so much for sharing your story. Jay in NC

  • Jason Holborn

    You are awesome, Jay

  • Chandresh

    thanks a bunch for sharing. I choose to be a new possibility every day and experience breakdowns inside of that. Being vulnerable I confronted fear, rejection and loss of self expression. Your sharing brings forth a new meaning in being vulnerable. I accept it as a gracefully now. Thank you so very much. Being vulnerable is ….extraordinary!