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Going Against the Vulnerability Grain

by Paul Kim

In the search for our authentic greatness, we must be willing to do some hard work. That work consists of doing a lot of inner work on ourselves. Learning how to identify and react differently to uncertainties and emotional risks in a world that so often feels mean and quick to judge. 

A key factor is our relationship with vulnerability. How much should we show our true emotions vs. choosing to numb them and keeping an appearance of being calm and having it all together? 

For me, my knee jerk reaction has always been to bury it. Pretend it’s not happening. Give a false appearance, rather than allowing myself the full experience of those emotions because the alternative is unknown and terrifying what other people might think of me. 

In exploration of this, a few months ago I went to a meetup where the topic was about making more meaningful connections by asking each other “deeper” questions. 

As I was walking to the location, my stomach was in knots. I was thinking up excuses about why I shouldn’t go. I was already late, so it would be perfectly fine if I didn’t go. I kept wanting to turn around and just go home. I was definitely stepping outside my introvert comfort zone, but I kept walking and I eventually arrived at the space. I stood at the front door, I took a deep breath and blew it out, and I walked in. 

When I walked in everyone was paired up and they were in the middle of conversations with each other. 

I found a couple of the moderators and apologized for being late. Their heads then started darting in different directions trying to find someone to pair me with. 

They found someone for me, and she and I sat down. I smiled awkwardly and said hi, introduced myself, and was uneasy about making eye contact. 

Then the moderators announced the start of the next exercise. We were going to be given a question and each of us was to talk about it as openly as possible for 3 minutes. When it was the other person’s turn to talk, your role was to listen closely, and to ask questions. 

The topic we were given had to do with any struggles we were currently having in a relationship (could be a significant other, spouse, friend, family member, etc.). 

Now I really didn’t want to participate. I’m a pretty private person and I’m always protecting myself mainly from the fear of someone criticizing me in some way. It’s not even a topic that I typically share with friends, let alone someone I just met. 

I was supposed to go first, and I couldn’t just get up and leave my new partner. The bell rang, and the timer started. I looked at my partner, who sat patiently silent with a gentle smile and a “safe” expression on her face. 

I looked down, thought about the topic for a moment, and started telling this stranger some of my most closely guarded personal worries and insecurities. 

As I started talking, my partner listened intently. She started asking some questions, and seemed genuinely curious. I soon came to find out that we shared a lot of the same thoughts and feelings about our significant others, and our conversation quickly became comfortable and rapid. 

Before I knew it our time was up, and that was the last exercise of the night. What I had dreaded doing just a few minutes before turned into a feeling of not having enough time, and me wanting more. I now wished I hadn’t been late and felt I missed out on so much. 

After the meetup was over and I was about to leave, my partner came over. She said she still needed to complete her 10,000 steps for the day and asked if I would be interested in walking around with her to continue the conversation. I said sure, and we ended up walking and talking for an hour and a half around the city. It was a great experience, and I made a new friend through this wonderful connection.

This positive experience came from being vulnerable, yet I still find myself hesitant to practice it more regularly. This kind of connection is elusive; it’s what we want when meeting people, yet it’s the last thing we’re willing to show. It’s thought of as a weakness, but wearing our society mask all the time gets very tiring, very fast. 

It’s difficult when everything and everyone else always appears to be flawless. 

On the other hand if I choose to be guarded, I don’t allow myself to fully experience life’s unexpected uncertainties such as love, creativity, trust, and belonging. 

I must dig deep and find the courage to face my fears and things that I’m uncomfortable with. When I do I do sometimes find that I’m not alone because others have experienced the exact same thing, which is followed by a tremendous feeling of profound relief, and justification of my thoughts and emotions. 

A much more meaningful, and almost indescribable connection is made with another human through the process as well, and I felt my true authentic self begin to shine through albeit for a very short amount of time. It was a great feeling, and I’m so grateful to have had that experience that night. 

I will keep working on practicing to learn to accept and eventually embrace my discomfort, because like with anything else practice makes all things become easier. I also recognize that not every experience will be like that, but that is an emotional risk I must take in order to find the depth of my courage, and the clarity of my purpose in life. 


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