How Your Vulnerability Makes Everybody Safer
Are you lucky enough to have a friend (or a few) in your life who isn’t afraid to share anything with anybody? I mean, not in an uncomfortable, super-awkward oversharing way, but in an authentic, open-hearted, empowering way?
And you know what happens when my dear friends share their honest struggles, talk about mental health issues like anxiety and depression, share about their marriages falling apart, losing their jobs, or getting sick? It makes them safer. It makes me safer. It makes everyone around all of us safer.
The truth is, when you peel away a layer of shame so you can talk honestly and boldly about something that you’ve previously hidden, you make it possible for other people to get more air.
Shame is like this: Imagine a thin layer of fabric. Every time something happens in your life — to you, or something you do, it doesn’t matter — shame wants to wrap us up in one more layer. We let it, because we think it will make us safe. This fabric creates a barrier to the world, and hides us a little bit. We think it protects us. We think it makes us OK. It’s cozy. It’s small.
Yet, after a while, there are so many layers of fabric wrapped around us, we get paralyzed by it. It’s too heavy to move. It’s suffocating. We start to buckle under its weight.
And the truth is, most everybody is just like you — all of us, wrapped up like little mummies, jerkily walking around, feeling our way through, barely able to move.
What happens, though, when you look at the layers and layers of fabric that cocoons you — and you realize it doesn’t make you safer? It doesn’t actually provide any real buffer between you and the world — if anything, it only invites more and more and more layers. You realize you have almost disappeared under the sheer weight of your load. What can you do?
Well. You can start by peeling away a layer. You can take one off and discard it. You do that by being honest — first with yourself — and then with others. You do it by reflecting compassion to yourself — as you offer to others. You do it by speaking and owning what is true about you. Are you lovable? Do you deserve to be cherished? Do you deserve to be cared for? Do you deserve respect? (Answer key: yes, yes, yes, and yes).
When you take off a layer of shame-fabric, you feel lighter (and you might also feel a little embarrassed at first — like when you finally realize you don’t have to wear a T-shirt over your bathing suit). You feel healthier. You are more radiant. And other people around you get the tacit permission to do the same. When you give yourself that permission, and other people get it for themselves too — inspired, sometimes, by you — the entire world is lightened. It’s as if your decision to take off a layer of fabric erased its existence from the planet forever. No longer does the shame fabric take up space here on earth. It’s gone. It gets erased. And the scales tip a little more toward freedom.
How can we be bold and share our truth more freely? How can we speak our experience with confidence and resiliency? And make no mistake, we do need that resilience to keep removing our layers — it isn’t easy — a lot of people want to keep us wrapped up tight — so tight, they can’t hear us. Even so, the most important thing is for you to keep shedding that shame. Keep peeling it off, gently at first, and then all the way, until, finally, you stand without encumbrance. All of us are better off for it. All of us are strengthened by it, if we allow it. All of us can be inspired by your courage. All of us are a little safer because your shame doesn’t weigh down the world anymore. And now, I can let go of mine too. And mine doesn’t weigh us down anymore, either. We stand together, clean and pure.
One day, if we keep it up, we can finally fly. See you in the sky.
Sarai Johnson is the founder and principal consultant at Lean Nonprofit, LLC, best-selling author of Strategic Planning That Actually Works, and the host of No Nonsense Nonprofit, a podcast for nonprofit practitioners and dabblers. Lean Nonprofit helps nonprofits get bigger mission impact by building stronger businesses, and helps passionate people build world-changing careers. Learn more at www.leannonprofit.com.