By Trisha Wohlfeil, MA, LMFT
One of the reasons change is so hard for many of us is because where there is change there is often vulnerability. Many of us find the experience of vulnerability incredibly uncomfortable or even downright painful. Based on her research Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”. Not only is it nearly impossible to avoid uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure on a daily basis, but when we are facing change it often heightens them. It requires us to call deep on our courage to face what lies ahead. I used to think that people who were brave didn’t feel vulnerable any more, but now I now know that not only is it possible to be brave and afraid at the same time, they almost always happen together.
One thing that had helped me while learning The Daring Way™ is to find metaphors that help put words to my experiences. This is especially helpful for me when facing a sensitive topic like vulnerability. This is the experience I think of when I am facing vulnerability and taking a risk. Our family attends a family camp together in the summer and one of the adventure activities we always sign up for is the zip line. To get to the zip line platform, you first have to climb a large hill of steps to get to the tower and once you are there you have climb even more flights of stairs to get to the top of the platform to ride the zip line. A thrilling ride where you zoom down the hill dangling from a cable attached to harness.
While your heart is pounding from all the steps, it begins to pound even more when you see the height you are at and the ledge you are going to step off. When it is your turn at the top, a crewmember attaches a safety rope while attaching your harness onto the cable you will ride down on. I can always count on feeling the danger and risk while my heart pounds away in anticipation for what comes next. A thrilling ride awaits me if and when I can get myself to step off the ledge.
Every year, as I am climbing those stairs, I start thinking “maybe I am too old for this? Do I really need to do this? Why am I climbing all these stairs to then throw myself off a high ledge when I could be on the beach or floating in the lake?” The walk up to the platform is not my favorite part. Standing on the platform waiting to step off is especially uncomfortable and really not my favorite part. My brain is screaming thoughts like “what are you doing?”, “step away from the ledge” “are you really sure that little cable will hold you” and finally “this is crazy, don’t do it!”
I used to think that a really brave person wouldn’t feel or think any of those thoughts, but just confidently step right up and off. But the more I learn about vulnerability and courage the more that I realize that just because I feel vulnerable does not mean I am not brave. In fact, Brené calls the willingness to be vulnerable “our most accurate measure of courage”. Also, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I need is to beat myself up about not having the “right” feelings when I am trying to do something challenging.
So this last year I faced the zip line a little differently. I saw the stairs as a necessary part of the journey even if it wasn’t my favorite. I still felt nervous on the platform, but I told myself it is supposed to feel this way as it is risky and a bit dangerous. Also, its okay if I don’t like it. But it’s all part of the experience I have to go through to get to the next part. It’s the reason why I do all of those steps and stand on a scary ledge. I have to do those things to be able to have the thrilling ride of zipping down the hill surrounded with beautiful scenic views and the amazing adrenaline that accompanies the journey. You see there is a reason why I trek up that hill each year (sometimes I even go more than once in a day). For me, when I take the journey, face my fear and step off that ledge I get an experience that makes me feel totally alive and that is worth it! I don’t have to step off the ledge, but that also means I won’t get to have the ride! It reminds me of a Brené Brown quote that talks about the adventure of the wholehearted journey.
“Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss-off, and terrify lots of people-including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation ends, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time…brave, afraid, and totally alive!”-Brené Brown
Even though we may be walking towards change of our own choosing or it is being thrust upon us, I think it’s important to remember, it is okay that we may not enjoy the walking up or the waiting. We may even want it to end quicker than is possible or to forget the whole thing. But it is also important to be awake to the parts of the journey that make us feel alive. And as I tell myself when I find myself grumbling about walking up to my next platform (whether it is a project I am working on or a change I am facing) ”You don’t have to like this part, but remember when you step off the ledge, don’t forget to enjoy the ride!”