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On Being Vulnerable: Why We Should Jump Off The (Proverbial) Cliff

Exploring the benefits of risks and how we can all start to take more chances.

Woman standing at the top of a mountain, looking out over the expanse passed the cliff.

By Jessalyn Li

Risk Exposes Your Vulnerabilities, but Vulnerable Is Not Weak

The truth is, I dislike taking risks. I’m scared of venturing outside the safety of my comfort zone, both personally and professionally, because it means I’m allowing myself to feel vulnerable and afraid. Ultimately, it seems that risk boils down to those two pesky emotions — vulnerability and fear — the culprits that prevent us from skateboarding down a flight of stairs or leaving school to run a startup (both of which many, many people do anyway). These emotions are useful in preventing us from doing something truly asinine, but we need to learn to embrace them while taking reasonable risks.

Risks involve danger, mystery, and a great wide Unknown. The uncertainty and instability in the face of risk is terrifying and leaves us vulnerable, both emotionally and physically. Deciding to open and invest in your first small business could cost you your entire bank account. Ending a relationship is emotionally taxing and leaves you feeling raw. Vulnerability is scary, especially in a culture that emphasizes pride, strength, and independence. Somehow, we perceive vulnerability to be synonymous with weakness. Contrary to popular belief, however, vulnerability does not indicate lesser strength or lesser independence. In fact, it takes a mammoth amount of courage and strength to be openly vulnerable.

As Dr. Robert Firestone explains, vulnerability is “living without defense, or with minimal defense”. As we grow up, the defenses that protected us as children now prevent us from living life fully. In order to embrace life unabashedly, we need to be vulnerable — that is, take chances and pursue our dreams and goals. He points out that many aspects of living a full life undoubtedly leave us vulnerable: when we love someone, we’re ultimately agreeing to be hurt later on by losing them; if we offer to help others or ask for help, we can also get hurt in the process. While we are being vulnerable, we’re also exhibiting courage and strength.

Why We Should Take More Risks

Before high school, I was the last person to say “F*ck the consequences, let’s just do it”. I was careful to color within the lines of my carefully constructed life, equal parts complacent and scared to veer outside the border with my crayons. This tactic to life only left me unfulfilled, angry, and sad with myself. Suddenly, the hurricane of high school, college, and The Rest of Your Life hit me, hard. My dad was dying, high school was stressful, and I essentially got tired of waiting for my life to become interesting — I decided to make it interesting.

As Michael Demadema writes, “Life is not meant to be dull and full of regrets”. With the stark realization that the risks I didn’t take would likely manifest as regrets later on, I began to embrace life with an open mind. Junior and Senior year, I mustered up the courage to make new friends, bend some school rules, and break my mom’s rules. I went to my first concert, performed poetry to an audience, explored New York City at midnight, and did things I had been too scared to do before. These may seem like relatively lame pursuits, but for my quiet, introverted self, these activities pushed me to make new connections and broaden my scope of the world. To my surprise, I discovered that life could be rich, vibrant, and electric.

In addition to changing your perspective on life, taking risks can lead to considerable professional growth. You might gain access to great opportunities that are otherwise unattainable; the risks you take can showcase your confidence, and teach you important skills and lessons. I am always anxious and nervous when meeting new people, which has stopped me from introducing myself to awesome-looking strangers in stores, restaurants, and schools.

In college, however, I tried to swallow this anxiety — I began to smile, introduce myself, and even make small talk. I made several new friends that way, but I also gained valuable resources and information that I wouldn’t know about otherwise. For example, I learned about a very interesting study-abroad opportunity by talking to a new friend. I then decided to take the risk and apply, though I knew my chances were slim. We are so scared of rejection that we don’t put ourselves “out there” anymore, as I was guilty of doing so not long ago.

How to Take More Chances

  • Start small. This isn’t a race or competition. I started super small — talking to the boy next to me in English class, voicing my opinion about Andrew Jackson in History. These were things that I considered out of the ordinary, but things I could handle without cowering in fear. My heart pounded and my throat went dry, but these chances were small enough that there were no horrible, permanent impacts. To get used to the feeling of vulnerability and the possibility of rejection that looms in your mind, you need to take smaller chances often.
  • Set tangible goals. It sounds silly to set goals for risk-taking, but in the end, these goals really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I made the goal to talk to one new person every day, which was reasonable and tangible, instead of the abstract “I want to put myself out there and talk to people more.”
  • Use yourself for reference. The things I consider risks may be boring, everyday chores for some. The risks others consider small may be hugely disconcerting to you. The point is, don’t use others as a gauge for how to live and act. My risks included meeting new people and attending a loud, crowded concert. Others may consider their risks to be trying new foods or opening up to a  loved one. Whatever it is, you and only you can know whether you’re taking the right chances.

This article was originally published on Witted Roots.

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