Last night, my buddy Eric sent me a text to ask for a quick recommendation on a local Chinese takeout place.
(Okay, he was having it delivered, but no one uses the word ‘takeout’ these days and I had to at least give it a whirl.)
The point is, what started as a normal conversation about our weekend quickly shifted into something very different.
Reminiscing, I started thinking about how much I’ve come to understand him lately. Then, suddenly I found myself spilling all of these unwarranted, personal thoughts onto the screen. As I typed out words like ‘relationship’ and ‘support,’ I began welling up with emotion.
Afraid that I might catch him off guard, I quickly arrived at the point and closed out:
“You’re a good friend and I’m thankful to have you in my life.”
Eric and I originally met as acquaintances through mutual friends, but after countless shared experiences we’ve developed a real friendship. I find that we often forget to acknowledge these kinds of things, and I suppose I wanted to express my appreciation.
But as I hit send on the conclusion to a series of unanswered texts, a sense of anxiety crept up over me. Here all he wanted is a confirmation that the Kung Pao is superior to the Sesame Chicken, but I’m getting all sappy.
As I scrutinized my actions, I began to feel restless. Then a numb, tingling sensation spread from my chest through my body. I could hear my heart beating heavily against my ribcage and I got a weird taste in my mouth.
It was fear. Fear can be a very physical reaction to something entirely in our mind.
If you struggle with vulnerability like I do, you know this feeling. As a kid, I was a pretty big rule follower and I abhorred the idea of ‘getting in trouble.” Today, I relate this back to the feeling of being sent to the principals office.
But you know it as that “Oh Shit” moment that stops you in your tracks.
You feel it when you speak your mind at work, or raise your hand in class, or when you challenge that jerk who’s offending people in public.
You feel it when you tell someone that you love them and you feel it when you tell them that you don’t anymore.
It’s called being vulnerable, and it’s terrifying — but if I were to summarize this year with a lesson, it’s that we must embrace this unknown. As someone wiser than I once said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
Don’t Get Defensive
Staring down at my phone, I had a moment of weakness. My instinct was to take the edge off with a joke, and I actually typed out a “#NoHomo” before those three little bubbles popped up from his end and he could respond.
That’s when it hit me.
I won’t embrace a world where it’s more comfortable for me to slight homosexuality than it is to tell a friend that they matter.
A while back, I stumbled upon Brené Brown’s TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. This video opened my eyes to the concepts, and led me to discover one of her more recent published works, “Daring Greatly.”
You’ve got to read it on your time — but for the sake of this essay I’ll say that it’s taught me a lot about the natural defense mechanisms we develop to avoid shame, fear and ultimately pain.
Socially, we speak a bit less directly about these topics. Think about the last time you felt embarrassed, guilty or hurt. You know how intense it can be and I’m willing to bet that you would do anything to prevent these “bad feelings” in the future.
I feel this way all the time. We all do, it’s a part of being human. The advantage I’ve discovered comes from awareness. Reading books like “Daring Greatly,” or watching TED Talks on the subject help me stay conscious about the mental processes behind vulnerability. This awareness sheds some light on the daunting unknown and gives me strength to embrace it.
You Can Do It Too
Over the past week I have received a great deal love from those of you who read my first essay. You instinctively shared commentary and praise. You bravely volunteered personal stories or asked for help.
You need to know that you are as bold as you choose to be.
The only difference between you and I is that I was foolish enough to publish my thoughts. At some level, writing publically is actually a very self-indulgent act. I write to make sense of my thoughts and I publish because it makes me feel alive.
It feels a bit conceited to write it down, but the truth behind all this is that I desperately want to live in a world where we are more intimately connected. Small talk is for the birds and I want to change the way we communicate with one another. We’re going to get a lot further in life when we exhibit trust, forgiveness and empathy.
This starts with individual effort. We will show each other that it’s okay to feel the way we feel. We will choose to take risks in an effort to demonstrate that we care.
Following my last essay, the plan was to publish a series of findings on how technology and social media are leading us down a debilitating path towards perceived isolation and loneliness.
That’s still coming, but this story serves as a conduit to understanding how I’ve developed my perspective on these topics. And we’re going to have to be vulnerable in order to recognize these things that are going on all around us.
P.S. Eric, I love you, man.