Everyone is hiding something. That’s why it feels great to get naked.
I don’t mean physically naked. I mean there’s nothing wrong with that either, so go for it if that’s what you’re into.
I’m talking emotionally, spiritually, psychologically naked. There’s a word for it that’s in vogue right now: vulnerability.
Vulnerability has magical powers. It makes us feel connected to others. It alleviates shame. It makes us feel powerful. It gives us purpose and meaning. It improves our relationships. I encourage you to try it.
The internet is full of reasons why being vulnerable is great. I’d like to talk about something different–what happens after you get vulnerable. The “dark side” of vulnerability.
I’m trying to grow a coaching business from scratch. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m hoping to share some of my most transformative and profound experiences and use them to serve others. I’m standing up and saying hey world, looky here. I’ve got something worthwhile to share.
So, over the last month or so, I have shared articles, videos, and statuses on Facebook. I’ve spent hours crafting blog posts that are meaningful and honest. I talk about deep and personal subjects.
Thankfully, I’ve gotten a lot positive feedback about it. It has started some fascinating conversations with old and new friends. Some have even told me the articles are inspirational and asked me to please keep writing them because they’re so impactful.
This sounds like a success right?
Well, something odd happens on the day after I post these articles. The next day, I wake up feeling totally embarrassed.
To the point where I can’t even make myself go and read the post again.
It’s a mixture of embarrassment, shame, and feeling like a fraud. It makes me want to go hide somewhere. I remembered the term for this: vulnerability hangover.
It’s when you share so much, get so real, expose your inner workings so thoroughly, that you wake up the next morning thinking, my god, I can’t believe I said that! What was I thinking??
Being vulnerable sounds great in the moment, sure. It gets you all empowered and emboldened, and you get high off being so authentic. But, if you share enough, on a large enough scale, you will wake up the next morning feeling terrified at yourself. That’s exactly what happened to me.
This got me really curious. One day, I felt good about something I wrote and shared. The next, that very same writing had me feeling bad and wishing I had never shared. What was going on?
Here’s my explanation. When we share something genuine about ourselves, or something we’ve created, we are tossing away the mask we’ve cobbled together that usually represents us to the world. It’s a way of putting a stake in the ground and saying, look–this is who I am.
The genuine part of us that comes through is who we really are. It feels great to claim that with others as witnesses. It means we can be ourselves more.
But the thing we forget is that it’s a choice we have to keep making. After that first time of getting really vulnerable, you might shrink a bit back into that old role. And Old You hates what you just did, because you’re killing him/her.
So the vulnerability hangover happens. It’s Old Small You hanging on for dear life. It will tell you things like, “Oh, you want to make a difference? You want to ‘help’ people? Don’t do that. No one wants to hear this. Just keep being who you were. It’s so easy, and so safe. It’s comfortable. Come on, come back to us.”
We’ve all got a little Gollum and Smeagol inside us.
The idea of committing to my coaching business was extremely uncomfortable.
I had all sorts of objections to it. Things like, I don’t have anything of value to give people. It’s way too audacious to call my thoughts “wisdom.” My story won’t be meaningful to others. I’m not old or wise enough to coach people. Why would anyone trust me with their inner lives, and their money–I can’t actually make a difference to them.
All of these doubts come up in those moments when I’m not really believing in myself, and want to go back to the way things were.
But I also know the pain of living life in the shadows. The pain of potential unmet. The pain of dreaming big and living small. A lot of us know that dissatisfaction all too well.
So even though I feel like an impostor, like I’m doing something silly, I ignore the doubts and share my articles anyway. It’s the only real choice available.
Every time I post something, part of me regrets it and thinks it’s crazy. But I’m just going to keep doing it until that part shuts up.
The reason I tell you this is because we tend to envision progress and success as a glorious battle fought for your honor, your valor, your soul! Something epic and consequential. But more often progress is just a shitty little human thing we do, day after day, little step after little step.
It might look cool and inspirational from the outside, but from my side, it feels mostly weird and uncomfortable, and sometimes euphoric.
Pursuing a dream is scary. You have to be really vulnerable for that. It involves stepping out of conventional expectations. It might involve letting go of a safe and stable and boring job. It might require failing. It may even involve explaining yourself to loved ones who don’t understand what you’re doing.
So, if you’re ready, I’d like to ask you–is there an area of your life where you could be more vulnerable? Maybe it’s a relationship (with another or yourself). Maybe it’s a career move. A little risk never killed anyone (wait, no, risk has definitely killed people).
What do you know you could give to the world but aren’t? Who do you know yourself to be deep down? What’s your vision for your place in the world? Is it different than what you’re doing now? Would you be willing to put the first stake in the ground, get super uncomfortable, and step into the arena?
These are some cases where vulnerability can change everything. And know that if you do decide to get vulnerable, I’ll be right there, feeling uncomfortable, with you.
Some would say that if you don’t wake up with a vulnerability hangover, you haven’t shared enough.
I’ve watched a few really powerful coaching sessions where the coach asks the client to finish this sentence: “What I don’t want you to know about me is…”
And he keeps digging until the client is totally raw and exposed.
Another variation is finishing this sentence: “I want to follow x dream but I haven’t because deep down I’m afraid that…”
There is power is exposing the parts of ourselves that we feel are wrong and ugly. We all have habits or traits we’d rather the world not see. They keep us from expressing ourselves. But sharing them means they’re no longer the monster hiding in a dark corner that could snatch you at any moment. Sharing them is like taking a flashlight to that corner and seeing that there was never any monster in the first place.
Have you ever felt the power of vulnerability–or a vulnerability hangover–in your own life? I’d love to hear about it. Comment or email me with a story. And if you found this article interesting, don’t hesitate to share it with friends and subscribe for weekly wisdom 🙂