In The Year of Living Vulnerably
Consider this a highly personalized “year in review,” a final thought on 2016 and a what’s in store for the year ahead. I am not one for resolutions, so I’d rather frame this as rallying cry for moving forward in any year. Also, FYI, I'm horribly uncomfortable doing this.
I think it is safe to say that 2016 has popularly been a wretched hell of a year for many people, and much of that has to do with the revelation of vulnerability.
Looking back on my 2016, vulnerability was a recurring character, often insidiously so. And it is important for me to realize and acknowledge that I was and am vulnerable.
Now I will note, of course, that my problems in 2016 are, in the grand scheme of things, fairly comfortable problems. There are certainly people who have and are suffering significantly more, some of whom figure centrally in the circumstances I encountered. Nevertheless, by 2016’s end, as someone who regularly attempts to steel himself, I realized that I had become distinctly aware of my own personal vulnerability and the need to embrace it going forward.
Vulnerability exposes you in many ways, in my case, it went at my sense of health and physical well-being, and at my sense of emotional well-being, particularly in relationships, whether romantic, friendship, work or otherwise. I will spare details but…
Health and Physical
Cancer in various forms took on prominence this year. I’m fortunate to say that it didn’t directly impact my health, but it did impact many at varying degrees of closeness to me, particularly my best friends. In one case my oldest male friend who bravely fought testicular cancer and barring final confirmations and tests, won. And in another case, the mother of my best female friend (who herself was already experiencing a multitude of distinct challenges of her own, that you could read more about here). In both cases, helplessness becomes a constant companion, each in a sense of a strong desire to support them and their family but never quite sure of how, in the empathetic sense of trying to understand how helpless they must feel, and in the sudden awareness of your own personal fallibility, at any age.
Relationships: Romantic, Friendship, Work or Otherwise
This one hits more distinctly home I suppose, as a direct experience in the stinging, desperate way that any emotional challenges tend to. Here vulnerability took the form of waiting, and all the uncertainty and much worse emotions that come with that (loneliness, jealousy, shame).
Waiting in a relationship (I really have to stress, of any sort) is not a healthy thing to do, and it is something that I found myself doing a lot in 2016. Whether it’s waiting to find something out, waiting for an experience, waiting for a connection, or waiting for reciprocity, it does a number on one’s sense of self and self-esteem. It attacks that very real, core component of your personal vulnerability that causes you to question yourself, your worthiness, and if you’re ever good enough for someone or something. It makes you feel that no matter what you do you’re never enough, because no matter what you do, nothing will be resolved. Waiting is uncertainty incarnate and it forces you to be uncertain about yourself, which in turn manifests as darker, more painful emotions.
Being made to wait, for someone or something, with no clear understanding of why, what it means, what you mean to them, and what will come of it, hurts.
Accepting the Vulnerability
This is no easy feat. And I’d be a liar if I said I truly know how.
What I do know is that vulnerability is good if you allow it. Let vulnerability to come into you, fighting it doesn’t make it go away, but accepting and understanding it can make you stronger.
In the health sense, things will happen that are out of our control, all individuals I knew that were afflicted in the past year were all perfectly healthy. The lesson here for me from the bystander perspective was accept what’s happened, and focus on what needs to happen to support those who need it, from simply checking in, to delivering groceries and being there for all the things they can’t do. Don’t think about yourself here, be selflessly available for anything they may need.
In the relationship sense, it is much trickier.
It dawned on me that in spite of how emotionally strong I’d like to think I am, I had been a sensitively exposed and vulnerable nerve since January 1 (if not before). Yet, as usual I tried to defensively bottle it up, making myself a tightly wound steel trap of thoughts and feelings. This also caused me to make a lot of seriously dumb mistakes.
By the year’s end I realized, and likely far too late to feel any better about it, the need to acknowledge my vulnerability, and be open and honest with those for whom, or those circumstances in which, I felt like I was waiting. Of course, this only compounded the "inner turmoil" I already felt, making me feel worse, and likely overwhelming others.
So what to do? Really, what can you do but accept it, and be better.
One of my favourite Indiana Jones quotes is: “You lost today kid, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
I feel like I lost in 2016, but I don’t have to like it.
Things may not be as you want them, they may not be changeable, and in my case, you may even end up still feeling like you’re waiting, and potentially in vain.
Happiness is a choice. Whether directly choosing to be happy, or making the choices that will make you happy.
There is no such thing as surrendering to time. Time is determined by the choices made by you and all those around you. If you remove yourself from that, then you actively abstain from choosing to be happy, you essentially let others choose for you. Choose to make yourself happy.
For me this takes two roads. On the one hand, it is choosing to be vulnerable, and choosing to learn to be comfortable with that, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. Vulnerability is uncertainty and exposure, but it is also the only way to make real connections, creations, and change, whether personally or professionally. I know that I have missed out on, or maybe even lost on each of those because of my resistance to vulnerability.
On the other hand, knowing how to embrace and be vulnerable also means knowing when to not.
My incredibly resilient female friend that I mentioned earlier reminded me like a wonderful smack in the face that:
“If they miss you, they’ll call. If they want you, they’ll say it. And if they care, they’ll show it. If not, they can’t be worth your time, because you’re obviously not worth theirs.”
It’s a sobering statement, that leaves little room for grey, and speaks to all manner of waiting in all manner of relationships. It should be your barometer by which you allow your vulnerabilities to be exposed to others, or refuse to let them get taken advantage of. If you can’t reasonably see that you’re worth someone’s or something’s time, then they are not worth yours. Choose to be happy, choose to let those things out of your life, and choose to let or keep those who reciprocate in.
Your vulnerabilities get the best of you when they make you worse. It is unquestionably hard, but when you become distinctly aware of how truly vulnerable you are, your only thought should be “how can I use this to become a better version of myself.”
So, that will be my rallying cry for the years ahead.
So long 2016, you weren’t great.