For most adults living in any society who appear to be functional, we’ve learned with great skill to “fit in”. We’ve learned to be the person we’re expected to be. We’re responsible and caring. We’re the doctor, the lawyer, the entrepreneur, the “esteemed person” that fits the mold others have deemed appropriate for us. And for the most part, it’s healthy and efficacious. I’ve had the honor to coach professionals across organizational levels and across the professional life cycle. It’s clear to me that our Best Self can be accessed only when we dare to be vulnerable. Forget about being vulnerable to others. Being vulnerable to ourselves can be the greatest act of courage.
Some have been befuddled by this notion of being vulnerable to myself. “I am who I am. I know who I am. What do you mean?” he or she asks. I then proceed to ask who is this “I am” person. Is this person’s life her construct? Or is it an unconscious response to the demands of parents, family or community? How comfortable is he living in his current self? It usually takes some time, but step-by-step, if my client is courageous, the process of unmasking begins. And the only, the only way to his best self is through vulnerability; daring to venture into the very areas he’s learned to shut off and keep closed. There is no other option. Experiencing vulnerability is rarely a pleasant journey, but it is honest. And that honesty offers freedom to the person. Freedom to breathe in her own truth and to feel 100% acceptance of herself. It is beautiful. Even if it lasts for but a minute. It’s a doorway to her true self. Once experienced, the courageous can not help but return to venture through this doorway again.
Our society shuts down our access to our true selves because we’re taught it’s wrong to be vulnerable. Unfortunately, this is especially true for men. Our truisms: “Big boys don’t cry”. “Don’t cry over spilt milk”. “Crying is for sissies”. What a loss for those of us who have been taught this. For it is in the tears that we recognize what matters to us, what scares us, what needs care. When we learn to shut this doorway, we shut down our truth. As we shut this out from ourselves, we shut this out from others in our life. Before you know it, we’ve created a society where everyone dons “the life mask”, dancing in a dance that sometimes is so far from our own. I find this particularly true for the overachievers, the “successes” in our society.
The question for each of us is whether living with an “oxygen mask”, simply so we can survive, is good enough? Do we believe we deserve more? Do we believe we deserve to live a life closer to our truth? Do we believe we deserve to live joyously? To live in our freedom? If your answer is yes, I honor your belief. I invite you to take the step of courage. Open yourself to vulnerability. Know that whatever comes, is a path to your Best Self. This path requires time. It requires patience. It requires love. If you choose to take this journey, don’t do it alone. Do it with someone you know who will accept you, no matter what emerges.
As one of my great mentors has told me, “this process is simple, but it is not easy”. What a beautifully nuanced discernment. Yet for each of us who has traveled on this path called life, we know that a life gem is rarely achieved easily. Yet, it is always worth its while.