Vulnerability: Strength Or Weakness

AJW's TaproomOn the day after Christmas, a gentleman named Colin commented on one of my November columns about vulnerability. In his comment Colin recommended Brené Brown’s work as something worth considering in the context of my thoughts on vulnerability. Having been consumed with the topic ever since my Hardrock experience last July, I quickly ran out and bought Brown’s 2012 book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Even the subtitle inspired me!

In this great little book, Brown presents fascinating research on vulnerability and in the process turns conventional wisdom on its head. Confirming much of what I have been thinking about since the summer, the author presents tangible data to strongly suggest that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness or some kind of deficit but is rather a condition that can most often lead us toward more courageous decisions, meaningful engagement, and purposeful connections. In one of her most poignant passages, Brown asserts that “vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat but rather it’s understanding the necessity of both, it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”

I’ll admit, I had never really thought of vulnerability as being “all in.” Rather, on the contrary, I thought it was more like being “all out.” But the more I thought about it and the more I reflected on my life as a father, as an educator, and, most especially, as a runner, the more I agreed with it. In a way, I make myself vulnerable each time I head out for a run. Sure, sometimes the vulnerability is more in my head and heart than in my body and yet each time it’s there nonetheless. Then, of course, there are the times when I put it out there a bit more courageously and perhaps with a bit more risk. Whether in a race or simply in a challenging workout, there are times in every runner’s life where the sheen wears off and the body is laid bare. In these moments we learn much about risk and hope. At those times we have to be “all in.”

As I look personally ahead to the new year and another year on the run, I cannot help but circle back to the simple idea of that which breaks us down the most ultimately builds us up. That which tests the limits of our emotional and psychological limits also tends to bring the most meaning and purpose into our lives. Often it’s messy, imperfect, and confusing, but it’s always real, authentic, and raw.

Especially when we run.

So for me, I hope in my new year to embrace my own vulnerability. In the final year of my forties, I plan on living my life fully, keeping my head up and my heart open, even on my most difficult days. And, each morning when I stride off my doorstep and plunge into my daily run, I intend to seek that part inside me I do not yet fully know but that is inexorably revealed, bit by bit, each time I do this thing I love so much.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Red Hare Brewing Company Gangway IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Red Hare Brewing Company in Marietta, Georgia. Their Gangway IPA is simply excellent. Balanced, appropriately hopped, and eminently drinkable, this should be on any list of top Southern IPAs.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you read Daring Greatly? If so, what are your thoughts on the book?
  • Do you let yourself be vulnerable? Or have you found yourself in a vulnerable situation? If so, what came of it?

There are 9 comments

  1. Burke

    Hmmm. This is as I suspected it would be when I saw it on FB. I’ve always thought of vulnerability as strength and being “all in”. Just putting it out there for the world to see and being able to come to terms with the results. You learn from the mistakes, and become stronger to go even further next time. I need to get that book; my thoughts don’t go as deep as they need to on this. Thanks.

  2. Ben Dicke

    I’m a professional actor and director who also has a few 100 mile finishes. In my vocation, vulnerability is essential as we believe the stripping away of externals leads to transformation. As artists whose primary tool is the body, our challenge is to continually open ourselves to emotional availability, both with our scene partner and with our audience. And, there is an addictive component to the work. Experiencing the freedom of vulnerability is rarely asked of us in other work environments.

    Running the marathon and beyond holds some strong similarities for me as playing a fantastic role onstage. Obviously, the performative quality of toeing an start line automatically opens us up to an audience (friends, family, co-workers made aware of our goal). We are now confronted with the possibility of failure. That possibility itself creates potential for vulnerability.

    And then the race, be it a well-run marathon or a mountain ultra, begins to strip away the emotional walls we build up in our musculature, laying us bare. We become open on the road and trail. And transformation can then take place.

  3. Scott

    Perfect post AJW for a time to look forward. It’s something we all too often fail to acknowledge or embrace. As Steven Pressefield points out as poetically as always, sometimes we need to “put your a$$ where your heart wants to be..”

  4. Colin

    So glad that you liked the book, AJW. For a guy who has a lot of trouble recognizing that he can’t always be the stoic rock, and that emotions and vulnerability are good things, I’m still trying to learn a lot of the lessons in the book. I’m definitely trying to incorporate lessons from running (I’ve never had a problem accepting help and goodness from aid stations!) into relationships and the rest of life. I always enjoy your column here, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts about vulnerability and running on the TRN podcast!

  5. TrailClown

    I just finished the book, “The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s”.

    If you want to read about vulnerability, this is a good one. John Thorndike details taking care of his Dad during the final year of his Dad’s life.

    His dad, Joe Thorndike, was famed editor of Life Magazine in the years after WWII.

    I guess the point is, eventually vulnerability takes us completely over, so getting some practice in during our ‘vigorous’ years might be a good idea…

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