In the days before GPS when driving around lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood my wife would ask, “Why don’t you pull over and ask for directions?” with clear frustration in her voice. This event would cause a flash back to moments when my mother and father had a similar interaction and I could remember how angry my dad would get at the suggestion he did not know his way. My reaction, a generation later followed a similar pattern although more frustrated than angry, the result would be the same. “I know the way!” I would say, feeling fearful that asking for directions would somehow reveal my incompetence, and that admitting I was lost to a stranger would somehow make me feel less than as a human.
Why is this simple act of asking for directions seem so difficult for so many? As a metaphor in life we can often feel like we have lost our way, in our careers, our families, significant relationships, or even the very important relationship with ourselves. We wake up each morning with the intention that today will be a better day, we feel we are good people and have an almost blind faith that we will arrive at our happy and content life. But in reality for many of us we arrive at the destination of poor health, challenging relationships and a career we don’t love.
We take pride in being self-sufficient, we celebrate those that are “self-made” and wear it as a badge of honor. The prevailing idea is that if you accomplish things on your own, they are more valuable than things you accomplish with support. We take pride in the extra pain we endured and the prices we paid but we “did it our way” so that makes everything ok. This society-celebrated behavior has many of us white knuckling the wheel of life solo, having us think that asking for help would somehow take away from our results and steal the very zest of our lives.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” – Brené Brown
The turning point for me was when I finally admitted, “I am lost” and was vulnerable enough to reach out for support. At first this felt like a defeat, as I had to admit I did not have all the answers and I had to shed the tough guy/lone wolf image I had of myself. The tears flowed as I grieved this old identity and had to look at all the times I had stubbornly refused direction when it was offered and had to admit to the many prices I had paid in my lifetime to that point.
As I stripped away some of the layers of learned behaviors and societal expectations it revealed a man worthy of love and an absolutely good person at his core. When I looked in the mirror it was like I was truly seeing myself for the first time. Not a lost man defined by his mistakes, or what other people think of him (good or bad), but a human simply doing his best with what he knows.
Stepping enthusiastically into not having all the answers and being able to admit I am lost in this sometimes complicated journey of life has transformed vulnerability from a perceived weakness to a source of daily strength. My willingness to be vulnerable has enhanced my connection with myself and as a result has allowed me to form much deeper and intimate connections with others.
“We are at our most powerful moment when we no longer need to be powerful.” -Eric Michael Leventhal
On the idea of being vulnerable I would love to leave you with three ideas:
- The quicker we admit we are lost, the sooner we can get back on track.
- Know that you are not alone.
- Embrace getting lost, new endeavors requires new paths.
Getting excited about being and feeling vulnerable takes practice. Now when I feel those stomach flutters of nervousness in moments of stepping into vulnerability my mind makes new meaning of those sensations and now translates them as: Well done, you are stepping consciously into the right place for learning, growth, connection and positive change.