The Complex and Powerful Beauty of Vulnerability

Vulnerability has become quite the buzz word these days. It is considered rather trendy to talk about vulnerability, and even more so to “be” vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to share pieces of yourself that you wouldn’t normally share.  It is shining a bright light on those darker areas of your life.  It can feel kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off a painful, ugly wound.  Bottom-line – vulnerability usually hurts in some way.  But at the same time it acts as a release that can feel incredibly good too.  Shining that light or ripping off that Band-Aid allows you the opportunity to let go of that thing you were working so hard to hide from everyone – once released you can begin to heal and move on.

Dr. Brené Brown is perhaps one of the foremost experts on the topic of vulnerability. If you have ever seen her Ted Talk on vulnerability, then you understand why. She describes vulnerability this way – “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”

And so the catch with vulnerability then is that it requires that you trust the person with whom you are being vulnerable. It is a leap of faith. It is scary and yet freeing at the same time.  To be vulnerable with someone requires a certain amount of courage and it requires letting go of the need to control what people see and think about you.  But if you are able to do that, if you can find a way to be vulnerable with someone, you open the doors to an amazingly beautiful growth opportunity for yourself as well as in your relationship with that person.

But beware the biggest obstacle of them all if you choose to set out on this vulnerability journey – we live in a culture and in a time when we are taught to believe that to be vulnerable is to show weakness, and weakness, of course, is bad. However, as Brené Brown points out, “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” Such a true and important distinction. Treating vulnerability as a negative or bad thing only serves to make people hold on to their stuff more tightly…to continue putting on a façade for the rest of the world rather than being their true selves.  The strength required to be vulnerable is such that many will run away rather than face it.  Truly being vulnerable is one of the utmost signs of strength a person can display.  It is one of the most beautiful things to behold, and as such should be applauded not scoffed at.

Trendy or not, vulnerability is powerful and freeing, so go ahead and give yourself permission to own your story, all of it, and to be vulnerable in the midst of it.

Inspiration From A Child

As children we look to adults to teach us what we need to know in the world.  And why wouldn’t we – adults have life experience so they can show us how to succeed without having to repeat painful lessons.  At least that’s the theory behind it.  We all know it doesn’t always play out quite so neatly.  But regardless, the point is, it is a one-way street.  A one-directional exchange.  Children learn from adults.  Yet, as an adult, if you spend any amount of time with children you will find them to be an incredible source of inspiration unto themselves.

Case and point:  I often spend time with my best friend’s ten-year old daughter – sometimes it is as little as 10-15 minutes while other times it can be a few hours.  And each and every time I am in awe of what I take away even from just watching and listening…here’s just a few areas I have found inspiration through her:

  1. Seemingly endless curiosity: As adults we grow tired of the continual rounds of “why?” and “how come?” that children tend to throw at us because we don’t have time for those questions – there is always so many more important things to do. Yet for a child, understanding the world around them is all there is, hence the endless “why?” and “how come?” questions.  They seek to know and understand – and in a lack of information or answers, their creativity (another example I mention below) takes over in an attempt to use what they do know about their world to explain this new thing they don’t yet understand.  How inspiring it is to see such an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding, for curiosity about the world around them.  Think how we could benefit from having some of that curiosity in our own lives each day as adults.
  2. No worries about what others think: With technology and social media being such a staple part of their norm, young children have no problem making videos of themselves and posting on Musically, You Tube, etc. They don’t worry about what others will think about their hair or their clothes.  They aren’t concerned about whether they stumbled over their words or not.  They just have fun making whatever video they have decided to make.  Meanwhile the thought of using FB live or Periscope is paralyzing to me as I find myself worrying about how it would sound, what I will look like, saying “um” too many times, what people would think of the content, if I even have anything worthwhile to share in the first place…I could go on, but you get the idea.  So many of us could benefit from learning how to relax and just have fun with stuff like this from our young friends.  Think of all the things we don’t do as adults out of fear of what others will think – clearly this an area to find inspiration from young children.
  3. Boundless creativity: Have you ever had a child tell you a story they have made up? Did you marvel at where they came up with half of the stuff in the story?  It seems as if their creativity has no limits.  They are not bound by what is real, what they can touch or see, or feel.  Literally, if they can think of it then it can exist in their young minds.  Just sit back and watch young children in free play sometime and you will be amazed at the incredible amount of creativity you see.  It is one of the most inspiring things I have ever witnessed.  For anyone who has ever struggled to be or feel creative, just sit in the presence of children for even a short period of time and I promise you, you will feel inspired and creative.

The exchange between adults and children shouldn’t be so one directional. We can learn so much from children. Children just do what they do.  There are none of the external worries or cares that we have picked up as adults.  (How we as a society strip our young children of these beautiful attributes so that they grow up to be overly serious, stressed out adults who worry entirely too much about things is a subject for another day perhaps.)  Children serve as such wonderful examples of what it can look like to be present in the moment.  We really should pay a bit more attention to the inspiration we can garner from the young ones in our lives.

“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is about.”- http://www.wisdomquotesandstories.com

The Power of No

Danielle LaPorte says it so perfectly – No makes way for yes.

We live in a society of that feeds off an intense need for instant gratification and a fear of missing out. A society in which saying no is virtually out of the question. Saying no means you might miss out on something really big or it could very well result in a loss of or lack of something in your life.  You simply can’t say no and expect to live a full life…or so a rather vocal segment of our modern society would have us believe.  And let’s not forget that we, as a society, judge our level of success by how “busy” we are.  The more things you say yes to the busier you are, the more successful you are, right?  So again, saying no just can’t possibly be an option.

But here’s the harsh reality – unless you say the word no, at least on occasion, you can and will lose the ability to say yes at some point, very possibly at the moment when you really want/need to say yes. Why? Because you are human and can’t do it all.  Because there are only so many hours in a day.  Because no matter how close you get to being perfect, you still can’t be solely responsible for accomplishing everything that needs to be done at home, at work, and everywhere else in between.  It just isn’t possible.  You just cannot say yes all the time.

And let’s be clear – those are merely the facts as they exist, they do not represent a failure on your part. There’s no judgment. There is only the stone-cold reality that when we say yes too often we eventually reach a point when yes can’t possibly be the answer anymore.  If you are always saying yes you will inevitably reach the point where you cannot physically fit anything more into your schedule…into your life…and so it is then that no has to be the answer.  Something has to go before anything else can be added.  Quite a conundrum when faced with the opportunity to do something you have always wanted to do, but you can’t because of all the other things you previously said yes to (things that you may not even really care about).

And who does it hurt? Let’s be honest here – primarily you. And while overcommitting on your part can create problems for others as well, by and large you are the one who suffers from your inability to say no.  So what is the answer?  How do we find a balance between saying yes and saying no?

The key is to set and honor boundaries for yourself. If you follow any of Brené Brown’s work then you are likely familiar with this statement from her on the importance of boundaries, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Your time, your health, your sanity, your talents, etc. are important so you need to be mindful of your “Yes’s and No’s” such that you are honoring your wants, needs, desires, and limitations.  Again, it is not about any kind of  failure on your part, rather it is about being honest with yourself and not overcommitting.  Saying no on occasion to things that don’t feel right, don’t resonate, don’t align with your personal mission is not only okay, it is essential to being able to say yes to all things that are meaningful to you.  Commit to the things that light you up, to the things you are passionate about.  Don’t say yes out of guilt or some misguided sense of obligation to someone else.  Say yes because it means something to you.  If you do that, not only will you find that you are no longer overcommitted, but you will also find yourself in a place of great joy and happiness.

The Double-Edged Sword of Life

To experience life, indeed to live it fully, one must open up to all it has to offer. But opening up requires being vulnerable, trusting, taking risks, and becoming attached, to some extent, to things that are impermanent, as all life is impermanent. The net result is either something amazing or something painful.  This is the double-edged sword that we call life – you can’t choose your outcome, so to experience life is to risk one or the other of these outcomes with no guarantee of certainty in any given moment as to which you will receive.

I imagine most, if not all, of us are familiar with this concept from our own very real and personal experiences. And despite how many times we find ourselves at the crossroads of life, feeling the pain or pleasure of this double-edged sword, we forget just how good, or how bad, it can be until we are once again in its midst.

When it is good we never want it to end. When it is bad, we can’t wish it away fast enough, though it tends to cling to us all the more. The quintessential example of course comes to us through our relationships.  When they are good we savor them, desire more of them, can’t get enough of them.  Yet when things go wrong or come to an end, the pain can feel unbearable.  Even when the circumstances are such that we have not personally done anything to directly cause the painful outcome…even when we can find no fault with the other person or persons involved or the choices they have made, we still wrack our brains as to what went wrong or what we could have done differently…we still feel the immense pain of the situation.  As a result we often feel a pull or desire to retreat or to withdraw from life – a natural reaction for a species still controlled by the fight or flight response to outside stimuli.

And so it is, this dance we do with life and the double-edged sword that follows life wherever it goes. Do you dare to accept the dance? Do you trust that what you fear will be the very thing that will somehow set you free, or do you play it safe and not take the chance?  And after you get stabbed by that sword, do you dare to try dancing with life again?  How many times do you allow yourself to be stabbed by that sword before you call it quits?  All good questions, but none come with easy answers, hence the struggle surrounding this dance.

I’ve done the dance. I have been stabbed by that double-edged sword more times than I care to count. It hurts the same now as it did the first time I was pierced by it.  The fact of the matter is that no matter how many times you get stabbed by the double-edged sword of life, it will still hurt, immensely.  And each time I find myself asking the question, now what?  Surely it would be easier and safer to just curl up into a ball and shut out the world.  It would be so much easier and safer to say no the next time life asks me to dance.  And there are moments when I seriously consider these two options – there’s comfort in them for sure.  But those are the easier answers…and I am not so sure opting out of life really is an option, as life always seems to find a way to coax us back onto the dance floor.  It may take a little time.  I may have some wounds to lick, lots of  tears to shed, and an aching pain in my heart that needs time to heal, but I’ll come back to the dance floor again in time because in the end I know in my heart of hearts with each dance, regardless of the outcome, I am learning and growing…I am becoming a better person, hard as it may be to believe in that moment of pain.  Oh but if only it didn’t have to hurt so much along the way, but such is the journey called life I suppose.

It’s easy to become bitter and angry when that double-edged sword stabs you. But I choose love. Love for the person or persons who made the choices that caused the hurt…love for life in general despite this never-ending dance it makes me do…love for a universe that would have me continually experience this roller coaster of the highs and the lows of life…love because in the end that is all that really matters.  Life may challenge me, life may try to pick me apart at times, but I will be strong, I will learn from what life gives me, and I will work hard to find the lessons in it all.  And so, give me some time to rest, to feel all the things I am feeling, and to catch my breath and then go ahead and cue the music maestro…so that we can begin our dance once again, as this dance with life is all we really have and I have no choice but to make peace with it.

Opening Up To The Possibilities

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Life presents us with a seemingly endless array of possibilities every day. From the opportunity to meet new people, to buy new things, to enter into new relationships, to travel to new places, to try new things, to accept new job opportunities, and to learn new things, every day we get the chance to openly accept, or reject, any of a number of new possibilities into our lives.

Opening up to any one of those possibilities can sound inviting, even exciting. Yet they can also feel quite daunting and scary. Opening up to those possibilities usually means a release of control.  A deviation from the safety and security of the norm.  It is, often times, a matter of trust as well.  And it can also require a rather large leap of faith on your part.

So many doubts.  So many fears. So many questions. How do you know which are the “right” possibilities to be open to?  How do you know if it is the “right time”?  What if you choose “the wrong one”?  What if it “turns out just like last time”?  It can become an endless dialog in your mind…one that can paralyze you and render you incapable of opening up to any of the amazing possibilities that come your way.

It’s a balance…a dance. Trying to be open to the possibilities that life presents you with, yet trying also to be mindful to choose things that will best serve you. And unfortunately there is no one system, procedure, or formula to help you make these decisions.  It’s different for each of us.

But consider these thoughts…perhaps in them you can find some helpful guidance and thus allow yourself to be open to the possibilities before you:

  1. Know yourself, trust yourself, and follow your heart – always be true to yourself and honor what you need
  2. Don’t over think it or second guess yourself – sometimes you know the answer…even if you can’t explain how or why you know
  3. Let go of the attachment to any one outcome or expectation – only pain and suffering come from attachments to expectations and outcomes
  4. Know there is a lesson in everything so there is no wrong choice – regardless of the choice you make, you will learn what you need to from the situation
  5. Face your fear, knowing that the worst that can happen is you learn a valuable lesson – release your fear as it is irrational and will only serve to prevent you from learning, growing, and experiencing life

I speak all these things from personal experience, both past and present. There may be joy and there may be pain. There may be laughter and there may be tears.  But there will always also be valuable lessons to help you grow and become a better person – never lose sight of the importance and value of that.

Dare greatly and take a chance. Be open to the possibilities life sets before you. They may not be what you were expecting.  They may not even be what you had hoped for.  And they may not come at a “convenient time”.  But they are what you need in that moment for one reason or another – trust in that and stay open all the amazing possibilities that come your way.

The Bittersweet Taste of Disappointment

Disappointment – the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

We’ve all been there. And that definition just about sums it up perfectly doesn’t it? That feeling of sadness or displeasure all because a hope or expectation comes crashing to the ground.  It’s sobering, frustrating, and even maddening at times.  There’s so much raw emotion wrapped up in that one word – disappointment.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 4 years studying meditation, mindfulness, and, to some extent also, Buddhism.  Interwoven in all of these things is a message of caution about attachment, for it is through attachment that we bring great suffering and misery to ourselves. When we attach ourselves to people, things, ideas, or situations we become very invested in how things progress or turn out between us and those people, things, ideas, or situations.  Of course what we often neglect to remember in the midst of all that is that we can’t control anything or anyone other than ourselves.  And as a result things seldom work out the way we wanted or expected them to turn out.  Hence disappointment.

For me, my study of meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism was an attempt to understand this oh so familiar cycle in my life and to learn how to release my tendency to become so easily and deeply attached in this way. I understand that if I become less attached to people, things, ideas, and situations then ultimately I will be disappointed less often, and in turn be on that emotional roller coaster less frequently. This was a very appealing concept to me.  And so I set about practicing non attachment each day – I meditate, I offer prayers and intentions, and I reflect on my choices and my feelings as they relate to other people, things, ideas, and situations, all in an attempt to attach less and be present more.

Sounds so simple, and in the midst of those daily practices I dare say it even can feel like it is relatively easy. However, life is relentless in its continuous hurling of curve balls. So just when I start to think I’ve got this non-attachment thing down, I find myself in or near a state of disappointment over something.  Grr!  Snagged again!  So, what am I to do?  Well, the healing process I have come to rely on recently is that I first feel the feelings and really look at them and where they are originating from.  Then I acknowledge the attachment I have assigned to the situation – it is important to be honest about that fact that I got attached in some way.  And finally I meditate and offer up prayers and intentions all focused on my continued work on nonattachment.  What I do not do is become angry with the other people involved in the situation – they are not to blame for my attachment.  I also do not berate myself or become angry with myself.  I know those things are not helpful and I also know I am still learning and growing – non-attachment is not easy.

I don’t know if I will ever reach a point where I no longer become attached or no longer feel disappointed about things, but I am finding that the journey to reach that point is powerful, filled with amazing growth opportunities, and completely worthwhile.

Setting Yourself Up For Success

Here we are again, another year has gone by and a new one is set to begin. Amazing how fast time seems to go by anymore – feels like I was just enjoying my July girls’ weekend in Cape May only last week. But alas, it is the end of December and I am staring 2017 in the face.

It’s the time of year when most of us, intentionally or not, spend some amount of time reflecting on this past year. What all we did. What all we did not do, but wanted to.  The good stuff and the bad stuff.  The happy stuff and the sad stuff.  It is also the time when we tend to make promises to ourselves about how next year will be different.  We may even go so far as to make some New Year’s Resolutions surrounding the really big things we want to accomplish in the year to come.  This is all common enough – reflection and goal setting are both admirable activities, but how many of us take it to the next level?  How many of us actually follow through on the realizations from our reflection time and/or on the promises we make for the coming year?  I think we all know the answer to those questions – not many of us at all.

For years I was guilty of that too. If I even bothered to reflect on a previous year or dared to suggest a goal for the coming year, it pretty much ended with those thoughts. In many cases those thoughts never even made it into the new year.  I’d get up the first day of the new year and go about life as I always had.  New Year’s Resolutions?  What New Year’s Resolutions?  And for those few times when I did take my New Year’s Resolutions “seriously”, by 2-3 weeks into January they had fallen by the wayside and it was back to the same old same old.

This pattern held true for me until a few years ago when I began to do things differently. Rather than haphazardly reflect and make a mental goal for myself, I actually sat down and intentionally set 4 pretty significant goals for myself in 2014 and then proceeded to break those goals down into small parts and gave myself benchmarks throughout the year to meet. And every Sunday evening I would take 5-10 minutes to review my progress on those goals.  And so by the time December, 2014 rolled around I was delighted to see the growth and progress I had made with those 4 goals.  I had completely achieved 3 of the 4 goals and was well on my way with the fourth one.  That never happened before, ever.  Before employing this technique I couldn’t even bring one simple goal to fruition.  And happily I have continued to build on that success the past 2 years using this same format.

As I prepare to do my intentional reflection and goal setting for 2017, I share these tips with you in the hopes that you can also help yourself to make 2017 your most successful, productive year yet, personally or professionally…

Step 1 – Take the time (even if it is just 5-10 minutes) to reflect on the previous year

Give this task your undivided attention – you may be amazed at what you can learn. Here are some questions to consider asking yourself as a part of that reflection:

  • What went well this past year?
  • What didn’t go as planned?
  • What made you happy?
  • What made you sad?
  • What would you do differently if given the chance?
  • What were the obstacles that got in your way?
  • How were you your own obstacle?

Step 2 – Choose 3-5 goals for yourself (personally and/or professionally)

These are the things that you absolutely love the idea of…the things that make you light up…the things that will make you feel the way you want to feel and help you to live the life you have always wanted to live. They can be as big or small as you want, but don’t sell yourself short – dream big! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really want from the new year.

Step 3 – Establish benchmarks for each goal throughout the year

Work backwards from the end point and break your goals down into their smaller parts. (Whatever ½ way for a goal is should be done by the end of June.) Make them realistic but yet also push yourself a little as well.  These can be realigned at any time (especially in light of major life circumstances that cannot be predicted), so don’t be afraid to push yourself on these.

Step 4 – Set time aside to check in on your progress toward each goal

Ideally you should do this once a week. You may not be able to do something related to each goal every week, but checking in helps you to keep track of your progress and to notice areas you are falling behind in. This time should be non-negotiable – the moment you start skipping this step you will have started down a path that will very likely lead to unmet goals in December.

Step 5 – Set yourself up for success

Make sure you have the resources gathered to help you achieve your goals. Those resources might be other people, time, money, or physical resources like books or other materials. Know your own strengths and weaknesses and go from there.  Whatever you will need to ensure forward progress on your goals, make sure you have it at the ready.

Step 6 – Remove the obstacles, including yourself, from the equation

If you want to be successful at achieving your goals you have to be honest about the obstacles that stand in your way (and that includes yourself and your old habits). The best way to identify them is through the very first step above (end of the year reflection) as well as through the daily checks mentioned in #4 above. Call your obstacles what they are and give yourself permission to let them go, change them, remove them, whatever you need to do so they are no longer an obstacle for you.

Step 7 – Be honest with yourself throughout the whole process

Anything less will not net you’re the results you are looking for.

There are many resources out there that share best practices and tips for planning a successful new year. The things I share here are what have worked unequivocally for me. Using these tools I have accomplished more big goals in the past 3 years than I have in all of the rest of my adult life prior to using this technique.  It is amazing.  It is powerful.  And if any of these tips speak to you, please give them a try and set yourself up for an amazing 2017!

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. – Tony Robbins