If you’re reading this, know that vulnerability is power.
I find it hard not to compare myself to others.
At a competitive school like UVA, one is constantly surrounded by brilliant minds. Here, you find people who are ace-ing all of their classes, starting their own companies, and scoring prestigious internships for next summer. Since high school, I have looked at people like this in awe, always questioning myself. “Why aren’t you doing enough?” For me, these questions have often turned into harsh self-criticisms, such as “I am not enough” or “I am a failure.”
These thoughts have fueled my feelings of self-consciousness over the years and in turn, my feelings of perfectionism. The desire to do everything right is all too familiar to me. My life has often been defined by wanting to be accepted by everyone. I have struggled with expressing my thoughts and ideas to others out of fear of being criticized. I have dreaded showing others my weaknesses.
This summer, my roommate introduced me to the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Her work centers around shame and vulnerability. The crux of her research is that vulnerability should not be seen as a weakness, but rather as a strength. One quote of hers that I like to keep in my head is this:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
From listening to many of Dr. Brown’s talks, I have begun to realize how twisted my understanding of vulnerability has been. I think that many of us associate this term with “shame,” rather than a pathway to becoming better versions of ourselves. From realizing this, I have learned to recognize vulnerability as self-empowerment, rather than something to fear.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Vulnerability builds us up and connects us to other people. It is an act that makes us stronger and gives us courage. Today, I try to carry out this idea at school when I raise my hand in class to admit I am confused about something. With my friends and parents, I practice vulnerability when I admit to them that I am struggling with something. In instances when I feel like I have failed at something, I practice vulnerability with myself by thinking about how I can grow from the experience rather than self-criticizing.
In the moments where you feel like you have to hide your true self from the world, remember that vulnerability is power. Yes, being vulnerable is very difficult in many situations and I am certainly not perfect at it. In those moments when you find it difficult to be vulnerable, remember the words of Brené Brown:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”
Jordan B., University of Virginia '20