How the COVID-19 Crisis Creates Space to Embrace Our Vulnerability
“We cannot welcome disaster, but we can value the responses, both practical and psychological.” — Rebecca Solnit, “A Paradise Built in Hell.”
Vulnerability has never been my strong suit. Somewhere along the way, I adopted a narrative that failure was always personal and fixed. That anything less than perfect was pointless, and that my challenges and mistakes were so uniquely abnormal, exposure would be fatal. Chronic illness (in my case, idiopathic hypersomnia) only reinforced these unhelpful beliefs, further withdrawing me into my own sense of “otherness” and defeat.
Unsurprisingly, this kind of thinking has not served me well. So I’m now learning how to challenge the irrational fears that hold me back and to trust in my capacity to be brave.
Despite my own internal dialogue, I’ve always had a particular admiration for those who lean into their vulnerability. People who embrace their authenticity, who trust themselves enough to keep showing up without any guarantees, and who don’t allow fear to suppress what makes them human. But especially from those who “seem” to have it all figured out. I don’t know that it’s ever easy, but for anyone who has a lot invested in how others perceive them, I consider it an act of valor.
Lately, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I’m noticing more expressions of vulnerability from unlikely places. In between an abundance of “how to work from home guides” — is that really all we can learn from this? — some very brave people are using their platforms to expose their most vulnerable selves.
Like an emotionally raw email sent from a successful young internet marketer, interrupting his usual drip of tips and offers. Or a brutally honest blog post about feeling small, from a prolific writer whose work I’ve long looked up to.
The courage to be vulnerable is the best kind of contagion. It gives those who may be contemplating vulnerability the permission to dive into it.
Or at least test the waters.
I believe a lot of us are craving the freedom to be a more authentic, imperfect version of ourselves, free from the pressure to live up to the constructs we’ve created. To be more than just the one dimensional and carefully crafted avatars of our online personas. Or to just show up, be seen and let the chips fall where they may.
In a time of social distancing, we’re reminded of our need for real, authentic human connection. The kind that only comes when we surrender to vulnerability — in all of its rawness and imperfection.
It’s why a single, awkward Instagram post from Tim of the National Cowboy Museum feels like exactly what we all need right now.
Why the simple act of stepping out on your balcony and clapping for those on the front lines has become a global symbol of gratitude and solidarity.
And maybe why I can’t stop watching this video of a shirtless Jack Black dancing in his backyard.
All these acts remind us that being the bravest, most authentic versions of ourselves is the greatest gift we can give to one another. And while we’re all a little less sure of … well, just about everything, seeing others embrace their vulnerability has a way of assuring us that it’s going to be OK.
If there’s a bright spot in all of this upheaval, it’s that it has granted many of us the space to share and do the things that scare us most. Maybe because at a time of collective uncertainty, vulnerability is not only permissible, it’s damn near required.
A strange sense of relief happens when you are reminded of just how little control you actually have. We have no choice but to admit the limits of our power and release our grip on how things should be.
There’s no justification for waiting, no time for perfection, only for doing the best we can with what we have. Even, or rather, especially for those of us with chronic illness.
And when we’re all in this shared state of making it up as we go, it eases some of the pressure we put on ourselves and one another. The world, in all of its suffering and uncertainty, ironically feels just a tiny bit more safe and forgiving.
Whether a new wave of vulnerability is upon us (and let’s hope it is), I’ve already found enough reasons to try a little courage on for size. And while it took a whole global pandemic, I’ve never felt like there was a better time to just say “screw it” (in a responsible, socially distant kind of way, of course).
So, instead of focusing all my energy on professional pursuits and other “shoulds,” I’m using this forced hiatus to work on building up my vulnerability muscle. To run experiments, to share scary things and to challenge the stories that have kept me hiding.
My first, brave act is resisting the urge to focus my writing on something that seeks to prove my worth as a consultant. My second is sharing this post in the form that it’s in — unfinished and far from my idea of perfect. And to move past the voice in my head that’s questioning my nerve to tell anyone how to be more vulnerable.
If any of this resonates with you, and if you’re privileged enough to not be on the front lines of this pandemic, I humbly ask you to consider using these strange and scary times to do something that makes you feel vulnerable.
Send the email, post the blog, start the business, take the class, make the thing you’ve tried to convince yourself is a waste of time. Or do something unexpected for someone else that stretches you out of your comfort zone.
Fear of a global pandemic that’s already taken almost 200,000 innocent lives (at time of writing) is to be expected. It motivates us to take the recommended precautions to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.
But we can also use the presence of legitimate fear to help us take the air out of the kind that holds us back.
To expose the emptiness of its threats and reject its promises of safety, and to propel us toward the possibility that awaits us on the other side.
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Photo by Taisiia Stupak on Unsplash