Last night, I went to the 50th birthday party of a high school friend I’ve recently re-connected with. And there were to be other friends from high school and, of course, I was feeling rather vulnerable, questioning my own worth as a human being, comparing myself to peers as I imagined their far more happy, successful lives.
Yes, there is a reason I have avoided high school reunions.
As I write this on Sunday, I don’t know why I was worried. The birthday friend is a sweet, thoughtful guy and it’s been lovely to get to know him again. I also reconnected with those other old friends, and we all live in the area and share simillar interests — writing, kids, turning 50.
But yesterday, before the party, I was thinking about how maybe my birthday boy friend was making himself vulnerable, inviting to his party various people from different phases of his life.
I wondered if I could ever do that because, when I feel vulnerable, I also think back, shame-faced and guilt-ridden, to various points in my life when I said or did various big or small things … When I went too far, or was an idiot (at least in my own estimation), when I hurt people, or disappointed them. When I didn’t go far enough — didn’t risk enough — and disappointed myself.
And then to be with people whose presence could remind me of the idiot I was when I was 20, or the bitch I was to work with at that job when I was 30 — why would I want to put myself through it?
So, as these different thoughts were racing around in my head yesterday, I read the text of a Ted talk called “The Power of Vulnerability,” given by Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. Brown identifies herself as a “vulnerability researcher,” an expert in “vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame,” and her talk is a “viral hit” with nearly 10 million views, perhaps because it touches on things we all feel and struggle with but are too ashamed to admit, because we don’t want to feel too vulnerable.
We don’t want people to know that we don’t always feel happy or successful or perfect.
Brown basically says that what makes us vulnerable also makes us beautiful. Her research on human connection and self-worth–involving thousands of interviews and data crunching–has found that people who accept that they will sometimes be vulnerable–and still forge ahead, take that proverbial leap of faith–are people who also have a high sense of self-worth.
Hmm. Will need to ponder that one because when I feel vulnerable, as I did very much yesterday, I can’t say I felt a strong sense of self-worth, but maybe, according to Brown, I could get better at accepting those vulnerable, imperfect aspects of myself. As Brown says:
This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”
It’s Sunday morning, and I think, yes, I was feeling vulnerable yesterday afternoon, but I forged ahead, took the leap of faith and went to the party.
And, I do think there were small moments at at last night’s birthday party when I allowed myself to be seen, even deeply seen, by these old friends. I shared certain things about my life in the past 10, 20 years–how things didn’t go according to the usual plan for what we may typically consider a happy, successful life–or how I currently struggle with this issue or that fear. And these friends–women mostly–effectively said, “Oh my God! I know exactly what you’re talking about!” So, I suppose, we had these moments of feeling vulnerable together, and we laughed a lot–and I felt very alive. And the birthday boy was so happy to see us, so grateful we had come.
I felt gratitude to him, for throwing this party, and I awake this morning actually feeling both vulnerable but with a stronger-than-yesterday sense of self worth.