I went mute for almost an entire year in sixth grade. I didn’t speak to almost anyone outside of my family.
I’m not sure what happened exactly — I just stopped talking. Now that I think about it, I probably need to tug a little more on that string and figure out what the heck that was about.
But that’s beside the point.
I share this thought because I know I’m not alone. We all have the tendency to mute ourselves — to turn down and even silence pieces of who we are. We do it all the time.
You are this person at the office. And you’re that person at home watching Netflix. You are this person at a bar with your college friends. And that person in your place of worship. This. That. This. That.
Compounded over time, this shape-shifting — or posturing — really screws us up. Big time. Because we are always lying, hiding, or omitting something. We feel like imposters in our own bodies. In the worst cases, this behavior leads to debilitating anxiety and depression. Even suicide.
If you see the world as I do, then your gut tells you this is the wrong way to live life. We aren’t supposed to be in pain all of the time.
So why are we doing this? Why are we accepting this behavior in ourselves and each other?
Because the opposite reality — in which we are authentically ourselves — is equally terrifying. It requires diving into the edges of our discomfort and jumping into the pools of uncertainty.
We must be, wait for it… VULNERABLE.
We must do and say things that reveal what’s going on behind our posturing.
By sharing our hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities. By telling our darkest stories. By saying what makes us feel like we are naked. By doing things that make us feel stupid. By engaging more with what Ph.D. Michael Gervais calls the “third tier” of conversation, in which we share uncomfortable, hard to communicate ideas using personal experiences.
In my experience, there are three simple (yet, emotionally taxing) practices, that we can incorporate to expand our zone of comfort and begin to overcome some of these feelings of vulnerability. The key is to repeat them over and over again until there is nothing left to repeat them with.
1. Say what absolutely terrifies you.
There’s an untold story in your heart — something you need to say, but haven’t yet said. Because you’re afraid of what people will think. You’re afraid to offend someone. You’re afraid you won’t be loved.
An untold story spreads like a cancer — influencing almost every relationship, interaction, and choice you make.
It is the source of ALL your pain.
The obvious example (for me) is being gay. That’s a huge burden to bear if you haven’t “come out” yet, or if you’ve felt the need to soften the blow somehow for the people around you — still one foot in, one foot out of the closet.
But the truth is: we all have something to “come out” about. Something that makes us feel that icky, don’t-go-there feeling. Something that we are afraid of sharing.
It could be something you did. Something you experienced. Something that was done onto you. Something you are unsure of. Something you are scared of.
That idea, that when you think about it, your chest tightens, your breath quickens, as if your body is screaming: “NOOOOOOO!”
You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the place your brain automatically goes reading these words.
Shame, guilt, pain, insecurity — these very well may be the least sexy topics on the planet. But they can be made sexy when you approach them with intention. When you choose to do the right thing. To say what needs to be said.
Based on what you feel in your heart, not on what your brain thinks.
The story — that’s harbored in your chest somewhere — is an important one. Don’t let those voices in your head convince you otherwise. What if I told you that you wouldn’t heal until you addressed it? Would you do it? Would you share it? Would you choose to breathe through that rapid heartbeat?
2. Say the thing that no one else says.
There is a particular benefit that comes from zigging when everyone else is zagging. You stick out. And therefore, you are able to connect better with others and inspire them to take action.
Because while everyone else is posturing — trying to present perfect images of how their lives are unfolding — you’re being authentic. You’re saying the thing that everyone wants to say, but doesn’t feel comfortable saying.
You’re not trying to fit in, you’re trying to be you. And there is something really special about that.
- Here’s a picture from actor and director Justin Baldoni’s Instagram, with a caption about how he’s struggling to be a good parent.
- Here’s Laith Ashley, a trans model, showing his body off which takes INSANE courage.
- Here’s an article from Tim Ferriss explaining his dance with depression (and thoughts of suicide).
- Here’s a song by Andy Grammer about abstinence before marriage.
People don’t normally admit when they’ve:
- Messed up
- Been scared
- Racked up debt
- Tried to quit
- Tried to hurt themselves
- Taken credit (where it wasn’t due)
- Had a fit of rage
- Felt shame
What are social norms anyway?
There’s this genuine fear in going against what we are “supposed” to do — as if somehow we won’t be loved if our stories aren’t perfectly edited manuscripts.
But guess what? We are all human.
And humanness comes with a whole lot of uncertainty and volatility — with a whole heck of a lot of imperfection. If you are working and learning to become better than you were yesterday, then you are doing it right.
That’s all any of us in doing.
So, there is power in admitting what no one else will — that you are DEEPLY flawed. That you don’t “wake up like dis.”
The raw version of who you are is more beautiful than that filtered one.
3. Do what you think you “can’t.”
You live in a box. A box you built — with your experiences, beliefs, and values. Every time you bump into one of the sides, you retreat quickly.
Most people call this box your “comfort zone.”
Experiencing vulnerability is to do anything outside your box. It’s inclusive of saying things, but it’s also about doing things.
Jumping out of planes. Getting up on stage. Quitting your job.
These things are scary. They bring a level of complete vulnerability. You aren’t in total control of the outcome — whether you’ll land on your feet, totally bomb, or go broke. There is a certain level of risk that you can’t quite adjust for, even if you approach the situation practically.
As you become comfortable in your life, you begin to lose that initial amateur status (or so you think).
You need to seek out growth, seek out space to be more vulnerable. Find the corners where you aren’t quite comfortable. Enter conversations that stretch you. Get in rooms where you feel dumb. Do stuff that is so far outside what you normally would do in a given day.
You need to get addicted to that feeling — like you’re about to jump into cold water, half-excited, half-bracing yourself.
This will expedite your growth — and soon you’ll realize that you don’t feel vulnerable saying the things and doing the things you once did.
When you’re scared, watch these short clips for inspiration:
The goal, in implementing these practices, is for you to be you. To be you here and be you there. And to use that you-ness to inspire others to be themselves, too.
But I don’t want to underestimate how hard it is to tear down your walls and prod the boundaries of what’s possible. It’s hard to be you — to be the real you I mean.
Being vulnerable is, by definition, scary. It is the choice to expose your psyche to attack.
Oddly enough, this is the best thing you can do — because you are walking around all the time trying to defend it anyways. I might be wrong, but I think the pain of letting that go, for most of us, is far less than the pain of holding on forever. It is our little minds that convince us otherwise.
Now, I’m not anywhere near perfect at any of this. My pained psyche is still running my life. I’m struggling as much as anyone. I’m just rinsing and repeating as I have the courage to.
The struggle is constant. Implementing these practices hurts.
Just remember: every confrontation with discomfort, every dive into vulnerability, is one step closer to the freedom that exists on the other side.
I wish you way more than luck on this path, my friend. You are one step closer already.
Here are some tips to help you start implementing these practices now:
- Look at Mel Robbins’ “5 Second Rule.” Not to be confused with the appropriate timeframe for picking up food off the floor, her idea is that if you count down “5–4–3–2–1” and then do the thing you need to do — dial the phone, say the thing, post the photo, whatever — you can change your whole life. It sounds silly but it works.
- Start small. Tell your story to one person over coffee. Write it anonymously on the World Wide Web. Don’t look at the GPS before work (and be a little late). Post an unflattering picture on your Instagram. Whatever works.
- Shoot for sustainable growth. If comfort fell on a scale of 1–10, one being extra comfy, and ten being wayyy out of your comfort zone, where do you think you live on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? A four? A six?Whatever your number is, try and do or say something this week that brings you up two notches. (Don’t shoot for a ten unless you’re an eight.)
- Focus on your intent. What is the intent behind what you are trying to say or do? If you know the intent, then you won’t (a) be harmed if other people judge you, and (b) you’ll meet your intent without the approval of others.
- Do it if it feels right in your soul. If you are looking for attention, you might not get it. So don’t share your story or do something crazy for that. If you are doing it as an act to inspire or serve, to let yourself be out or open, to set an example, then there is no way you could possibly be disappointed. What you say and do will only bring peace to you.
- Do something NOW. Not later. Do it while you’re feeling the need.
- Reach out to me and tell me something scary. At [email protected]. I’m Fort Knox, baby.