52/300: The Strength of Vulnerability

I was exhausted. I was stressed. I was at the end of my rope, trying desperately to hang on to the plan, to work through the challenges, to internalize fear, doubt and uncertainty. And I was failing.

That’s when it came, a momentary glimpse of kindness; someone I love reaching out with a shoulder, not another item to add to my list. My first instinct was to run, to reject, to internalize this too. But I took a deep breath. I opened up. I admitted the things I’d been trying to hide, especially from myself.

In that moment of vulnerability, I found a kind of freedom I hadn’t experienced in a long time. In that simple, five minute exchange, I divested myself of facade and allowed someone to help. In that moment, which I might usually consider weakness, I experienced strength.

In his often overlooked early movie “Empire of the Sun,” a young Christian Bale plays and English boy in China at the time of the Japanese occupation. His family is rounded up and put into a prisoner camp. His family dies and, over time, this sheltered young man grows up in a shattered world. He eventually befriends a young Japanese boy who is training to be a pilot. During the liberation of the camp, the boy is called into action. He visits Christian Bale before he was set to fly out and, while offering his friend a mango, is shot when the camp comes under attack.

Bale leaps into action. He had lost so much – his family, his life – and done everything he could to maintain a sense of control. He immediately begins chest compressions on his Japanese friend, muttering “I can bring anyone back, anyone. I can bring anyone back, anyone.” Over and over he repeats this as he fruitlessly tries to bring his friend back to life.

I saw that movie when I was young – roughly the same age as Christian Bale’s character. And that scene in particular comes to mind, especially in moments I try to control. The need to keep pumping, to convince yourself that, through sheer force of will you can overcome what’s facing you is, in many cases anyway, a good thing. I’ll never argue against the value of persistence in the face of resistance, but there comes a point when we all must stop pumping; when we must be vulnerable to the things we can’t control and take stock in the outcomes we can.

It’s uncharacteristic of me to open up like I did that night. It’s unusual to admit I can’t think or work my way out of whatever challenge faces me. But, by being vulnerable, by allowing those feelings to come out, to give them voice, I found a different strength to carry on – a purer strength, a mightier one.

Many of us are fixers. We measure our value in our ability to overcome. But trying so hard to overcome has unforeseen consequences – you lose yourself, you break yourself down. In those moments, it’s important to not constantly internalize, but to let someone in – to find strength in your own vulnerability to get back up and tackle things anew, from a new angle, a new approach and with the renewed confidence that can only come from letting someone else in.

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