Vulnerability and Courage

Talking about journaling to groups of writers, artists, or those who have never journaled is one of my favorite things. So, last Thursday, when I was talking to PaperWorks in Tucson, I was having a great time. I ask people about why they journal and what they write about. The answers are always so interesting–people don’t want their journals read after they die, people are afraid strangers might pry. Keeping a journal opens you to being vulnerable.

lovelettersAs I sometimes do, I talk about my mother–the angry woman who would challenge me with, “No one ever loved me enough, not even God!” When she was dying, and I was cleaning out her house, I came across her love letters to my father. They showed me another woman, one I had never met, and could scarcely believe existed, much less was the same woman I called my mother. When I tell this story, I tell audiences I will choke up, because I do.  I don’t cry, but my voice waivers and I have to pause and swallow. And when I did that, I saw several women look away. One was shaking her head, frowning.

We are not supposed to choke up, that’s a sign of weakness. How many times have you seen people interviewed after horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy and as they try to answer a personal question in front of a TV camera and they start to cry, they say, “I’m sorry.” For what? For crying in the face of tragedy? Shouldn’t the person jamming a microphone in the face of someone struggling with tragedy be apologizing?

So, there I stood, choking up, and suddenly realized I did not feel shame nor embarrassment. This was hard stuff I was sharing. “Vulnerable” comes from the Latin wdaringgreatly_final525-resized-600ord meaning “to wound” or “capable of being wounded.” It’s brave to make yourself open to that. Shame researcher Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”  In her latest book, Daring Greatly, Brown says, “The profound danger is . . . we start to think of feeling as weakness. . . .It starts to make sense that we dismiss vulnerability as weakness only when we realize that we’ve confused feeling with failing and emotions with disabilities.” Then Brown says something powerful and important: “If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it. . . .Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

It’s very hard to stand up and admit to being vulnerable. Someone could make fun of us. Someone could attack us. And that’s what our inner critic tells us–stay shut off, keep those emotions stuffed down. And the value of that? We become fearful, and that ignites the ancient fuse of fear-anger-blame-alienation.

Being vulnerable is hard. Admitting your complicated emotions is hard. Not running away from your emotions, sitting with them, facing your truth, actually talking to your inner critic–now that takes courage. Being vulnerable in front of friends is a risk, in front of strangers, well it may feel like eating glass. But I know from experience that when you are vulnerable you are powerful. Authenticity always is.

This doesn’t mean blurting out your entire life story under the guise of vulnerability. It does mean not going out in the world with your fists up so you can take the first swing before your imagined enemy swings at you.

If you are interested in learning more about the courage of vulnerability, you can read Five Insights from Brene Brown or watch her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability.

—Quinn McDonald doesn’t always have the courage to be vulnerable, but she’s finding it easier every time she tries.

26 thoughts on “Vulnerability and Courage

  1. Pingback: Vulnerability is essential to your social media marketing success - Biznology

  2. Hi Quinn I love your words about vulnerability – and all the comments here about how in our various ways we need to have strength to be vulnerable. I know that when we own our vulnerability in our journal then we somehow break through to another level of insight about ourselves and our experience, and we are then able to make progress. In the light of the horrific events of the last few days in Connecticut we need to explore how our journals can help us apply ourselves to this reality – and how we can acknowledge and share the human vulnerability that belongs to us all. Your post is helping me process all that from over the other side of the Pond – so thank you.

  3. As for the tears….I think god must be living in my front room….he needs to go on vacation!!xxxxxx
    He will be busy over Xmas ,might give me a break!!xxx

  4. It’s Tuesday..just thought I would look at yesterday’s comments….amazing coincidence about the puppy. I split with my 15 year partner 3 months ago. We had just got a puppy for my son. I realized how emotionally worn out and vulnerable I was….that I didn’t have another ounce of “give” in me….normally I am a very giving person and we have lots of cats and animals. I was worried about the puppies well being but my son bonded with it brilliantly..three months down the line….they all went away this past weekend and I have just looked after dog for 5 days on my own in my new house and we had a loverly time together….all fears now gone. The point I am trying to make is how strange life gives us signals in unusual forms. I left my partner,obviously it was on the rocks before the puppy,but it was the instigator to facing all my fears ,the vunerability of being on my own,the truth I faced that I couldn’t fall in love with it as in my heart I knew I had to leave the house….all those instincts I had been surpressing….living in hope that things would get better. Realizing that I had to do to something and not blame everything on everything and everyone around me. I at first saw the puppy as the straw that broke the camels back,but of course it was nothing to do with the puppy….in the future when hopefully I will be happy in a new relationship….distant future not now!….I will thank the puppy and see that time as one of life’s pivotal moments of immense change. This is also tying in with my starting to journal….heres to 2013, a new year and positive vibes for us all. I type as the cat is curled on my lap!x

    • You had such a big revelation about your life–and that isn’t something one shrugs off. The puppy in the picture is often a clarifier and a rallying cry to our heart. Yes, on to 2013, where a new word (yep, almost time) awaits!

  5. Quinn,
    This is quite the loaded topic on vulnerability and the courage it takes to be vulnerable, knowing you’re more susceptible toward getting hurt or rejected. I find it interesting how you state that Keeping a Journal opens you to being vulnerable. Yes, we find truth about ourselves and our life experience as we journal and expose our emotions and feelings, desires and dreams. Journaling helps us get to the root of the problem when we get stuck. It also shows us how we can make positive change and that always puts us in a more vulnerable place, since change isn’t easy. Thanks for sharing your vulnerability, Quinn.

    I have chosen your post, Vulnerability and Courage, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 12/10/12 for all things journaling on Twitter;
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in my weekly Refresh Journal:

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: It’s Just Perfect!

    Thanks again for sharing the reality of keeping a journal in our vulnerability. May we always have the courage to know our truth.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child

  6. Living now and living here means there are very, very few things left to be afraid of. No prowling wolves or bears, marauding tribes, storms nobody saw coming, invading armies, gunslingers, poisoned food, death trap automobiles, airplanes that just fall apart in the air, buildings that collapse by themselves.

    Many — maybe even most — danger is gone, at least here and now. Isn’t it strange that fear is doing just fine. It’s almost as if fear doesn’t really have anything to do with danger at all.

  7. Dear Quinn, Your post hit my heart like a brick! I hide behind the age old “I don’t have time.” , “I’m too busy.” when it comes to journaling. I have always thought the things I teach, the art, and the things I love (including those hidden away in my underwear drawer) will be my journal when I’m gone. I have a few short journals during the days I was too full of emotion not to write but overall not much to leave in the written word.
    I’m reconsidering now and may challenge myself to take up that pen and put it to paper. To face my life of sadness, happiness, bitterness, goodness, to be vulnerable and leave more than I thought I would for those behind me.
    Thank you.

  8. It is often difficult to share our pain and hurt and personal stories because we have been hurt by doing so at some point in the past. Somebody has made fun of us or used the information against us or made us feel inferior or any number of emotions. And we didn’t like that. But it is often by opening up and being vulnerable that we grow and gain trust and come into our own personal power. But it sure isn’t easy to do.

  9. I wonder if the woman who looked away might have been thinking of her own mother who wouldn’t open up… feeling her own pain as she listened to your story.

    I wrestle with this feeling of vulnerability all the time; we all do, I believe. That’s why public speaking is a greater fear for many people than dying!

    I used to belong to our local Rotary club. I loved offering the invocation; my spirituality is not Christian and so I offered invocations and prayers that spoke to the human condition, not a religious dogma. I began my invocations with words such as “Deepest Mystery” or “Holy Nurturer”. Some folks appreciated it (my friends started calling me “The Invocanator”!) and some did not like my different way of addressing Spirit at all. We had a club of 200 members, so it really did take courage for me to offer my own approach to Spirit to this group of mostly older men.

    Typically, I would get appreciation for my prayers from ordained ministers in the club! I kinda felt like that was getting an A from the teacher.

    But there was one older fellow who sat at the table right in front of the podium every week. When I would offer the invocation, he stood rigidly, staring off into the distance. It appeared to me that he was doing everything he could short of putting his fingers in his ears to block out my outrageous prayers. I would just shake my head and sigh… and continue to volunteer to offer the invocation.

    Several months after I started offering the invocations, I happened to sit across from Al at a community breakfast. He looked at me and asked, “Kate, who writes your invocations?” I said, “I do” and waited for his response. He thought a moment, looked at me, and said, “You do a good job.”

    That was the extent of our conversation (except for me saying “Thank you”), but it taught me something very important. We can’t always judge a book by its cover. Al was in the military, and my husband offered that many military men stand at attention during a prayer; it’s their training. I now think that was how Al was showing his respect for Spirit… and my words.

    I am very thankful for that lesson.

    I am also thankful for your sharings, Quinn!

    Peace AND Prosperity,

    • I have no idea what the two women I mentioned in the blog post were thinking. That’s why I simply described what they did, and did not offer a conclusion or opinion. Like you, I accept people at the level they offer themselves–silence, participation. How they want to receive my words is their work; mine is to do the best job possible. And thank you for offering an invocation that is spiritual, but neutral. It’s hard to do that without criticism.

  10. Thank you for your post, it is great to know that I am not alone when I am embarrassed to show my own vulnerability. Here is another take on the women in the audience that looked away. They may not have been as disapproving as you might have thought at the time. It is possible that they did not want to show their own vulnerabilities as they were remembering stuff from their own pasts. I personally am an empathetic crier. I have to look away if I don’t want to break down and blubber right there with you. It is one way to help keep my composure, especially in a public setting. I love reading your posts, they always make me look at life a little differently. Thank you for being willing to share with the world.

    • Actually, I did not have a “take” on the woman who looked away. I simply noted it, and noted that another woman looked away, frowning. There was no judgment there. I have no idea what they were thinking. Although the woman who came up afterwards and said that I shouldn’t have told the story if I couldn’t tell it without “breaking down” (which I didn’t do, my voice broke, but no tears)–well, I believed that she felt the way she told me she did.

  11. Hear, hear. I have just had the roughest two weeks for a long time and it’s all about vulnerability. We got a puppy two weeks ago and its presence pulled up all my personal uncertainty and insecurity. That took me by surprise. I’ve been around animals all my life and I seldom have trouble being calm and reassuring around them but not this time, no. Part (a big part) of me is constantly worried about the mental state of the pup: is he bored, does he feel shunned if I don’t return his every attempt to get attention? All my old neuroses have returned but in greater force. Which is natural, as I know from meditation, but it is hard especially as I know that my insecurity can and will potentially damage the pup’s personality.

    I felt so lost and confused. I, who have learned to be the trustworthy one, suddenly could not deliver what was expected from me. And I had no resources for fixing this.

    So, I called a local dog trainer and we had a session with her. She saw right away what the trouble was and, boy, did that feel good! She reassured me that my instincts we right, that I did know what to do. We talked and practiced some, and I felt so much better afterwards. I still have my hard moments but I know I will get help (we agreed on some additional lessons).

    The dog pushed me to own my vulnerability and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful for the trainers skill and wholehearted willingness to help dogs and their owners. Her confidence builds up mine.

    • What a loving story. Your pup was such a good reminder that we have to find that balance of trust in our own instincts, too. And you found that tricky part that vulnerability is like walking halfway across a gorge on a rope ladder–it’s just as hard to go back as it is to go forward.

  12. Thankyou Quinn….you may just have made getting out of bed on this Monday morning easier to face……I am literally and metaphorically having to climb a mountain everyday….
    In the future will our daughters be reading our old emails to our friends and lovers? I hope the art of journalling survives the virtual revolution……I think it will with people like you in the world.x

    • I still have floppy disks that don’t fit into any of my computers. All that information is lost. Sure, we can stack up our hard drives, but they will fade, too. What’s lasted for decades? Pencil and paper. I hope my son knows where my journals are!

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