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  • Darci Daniels

Erasing Vulnerability

Because being open to getting hurt SUCKS.

Keep reading, I'll get to this.

I’m hoping you read this topic and thought – yes! Let’s get rid of vulnerability! I want to be comfortable and in my zone, and not deal with discomfort and potential rejection. Please, tell me how to do that!

I’m guessing about half of you thought something along those lines, and the rest thought – wait, it doesn’t work that way, who does she think she is? To all of you, keep reading.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen lately that I’ve been talking about my anxiety. If you don’t follow me but are reading this -- first, thank you! Second, I’ll catch you up – I have anxiety. As in, the diagnosed kind. I have panic attacks (not regularly, but enough), and the last 6 months have been more difficult for me than usual. Even admitting that, talking about it out on the interwebs for anyone to see, is slightly anxiety producing. What if someone who’s thinking about hiring me reads about my anxiety and changes their mind? What if people are looking at my website and thinking – she’s got anxiety, how can she be a coach? How can she help other people? Spoiler alert: I’m actually a better coach because I have anxiety. I can relate to a lot of people in a lot of different ways, but unless you’ve had panic attacks, you can’t really “get” it when people simply describe them. It also makes me super aware of my thoughts and feelings and how I can manage both, which, in turn, allows me see new ways to help my clients. Let’s say you hire me to coach an employee of yours, but you aren’t aware they have anxiety. In talking with me, they are likely to be more open to sharing their struggles because I understand and can relate to them. My ability to empathize and coach them through some anxiety-related issues could help their productivity, turning anxiety into positive, forward momentum. (It’s estimated over 18% of American adults have an anxiety disorder. My guess is it’s higher, because research shows the number has been on the rise in the last few years.) And it should go without saying, but the mental and emotional health of your team, and yourself, is pretty important.

So, what does that have to do with erasing vulnerability? Since I have been struggling more lately than “normal” for me, I’ve done a lot of diving into what I need to feel safe. This is, above all else, what people with anxiety typically crave. Easing, if not erasing, the feeling of being vulnerable, and therefore feeling safer. Since I’m working for myself, I can be at home a lot – safe. I can also structure my schedule, with some exceptions, to not drive during high traffic times – safe. I can avoid talking to pretty much anyone during the day except my clients, and I decide who I take on as clients – safe. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Feeling safe, and in a little bubble we create for ourselves, can sound lovely. In reality, what I effectively did is make my life kind of boring, a bit sad, and VERY disconnected. If you were one of those people who read the title and thought, “YES, how do I not feel vulnerable anymore?!” I have bad news: if you erase vulnerability, you erase connecting with other people. Therein lies the rub: we, as humans, are hardwired for connection. Vulnerability is required to connect with other humans. We must put ourselves out there, and face potential rejection and judgement, to connect with other people. To have a LIFE. It’s simple and complicated all at the same time.

Brene’ Brown is a researcher and author who has done an incredible amount of work on this subject; her TED talk about vulnerability has over 9.5 million views. I’ve read some of her books and listened to podcasts where she’s been interviewed, watched her on Oprah, I even met her once when she came to Seattle several years ago and was on a book tour (she is hilarious! And very sweet) and I’m not going to pretend I know as much about vulnerability as Brene’ Brown. Go get her stuff to learn more, it’s fascinating, and you won’t be sorry.

However, what I do know is my story. And how listening to one of those Brene’ Brown podcasts helped me in a huge way. Maybe what I learned about myself can help you, so I’m sharing it in the hopes that some of it will resonate with you.

Yesterday, my anxiety showed up as I was preparing to leave the house. I was going to drive into Seattle, a city that I love, and used to commute to almost daily for 20 years. I love being in the city, I love driving up I-5 and looking at the skyline, and unlike a lot of people, I’ve never had any fear around it. My destination was University Village, an open-air shopping mall right next to the University of Washington, my alma mater. I love UW, I love U Village, I love being on or near campus. I needed to be out of my house, partly because I promised myself I’d get out of the house to work more often, and the weather was good. So when the anxiety crept into my morning and threatened to ruin my day I was annoyed. I was curious as well, because I was going to a place that brings me joy, on a drive I’ve made thousands of times… but also not entirely surprised. This is the way it’s been lately. Something I love, that’s totally benign, causes me anxiety. It was stupid, and I was determined to get over it. I could’ve just driven down the street to my local Starbucks and worked from there. But that would’ve been a cop-out, and I chose the scarier option: I got in the car, turned on the podcast with Brene’, and started driving into the city.

As I hit the point heading north that I could see the downtown skyline up close, I started to exhale. I felt like I was going home, and it felt good. Driving into Seattle had been the right choice. At the same time, Brene’ was talking about how her research, much to her dismay, showed that to live a happier, more wholehearted life, we have to embrace vulnerability, not erase it. Huh, I thought, I had been embracing it, right? Between starting my own business, telling the world about my anxiety, building my own website, and putting up blogs, I told myself that I was being vulnerable “enough”. I was putting myself out there. Wasn’t I? But something inside me knew better. My anxiety has been nagging at me, and I suddenly realized I had convinced myself that I could stay safe in my little bubble and still be vulnerable, still build my business, and still get what I wanted. Right? Hahahahaha – Nope! Instead of trying to keep me safe and in a little bubble, my anxiety was trying to get me to break out of my comfort zone. Wait, WHAT?? Yep - each time I want to hide and give into it, my anxiety gets worse. I thought it was the other way around, but when I really looked at it, I was shocked to find when I get overwhelmed and freeze, I retreat/hide, and then the anxiety kicks into overdrive. Paradoxically, connecting with others and leaning into vulnerability can actually help you deal with your anxiety.

It finally all clicked when Brene’ said something to the effect that vulnerability is risking rejection. When we connect with each other, we effectively put ourselves in a position to let another person reject us, which can feel like a rejection of who we are, and vulnerability is BEING OKAY WITH THAT. In her book ‘Daring Greatly’ she states, “Vulnerability is not weakness, but the most accurate measure of courage.”

Well shit.

My mind started whirling – in order to feel safe, I need to accept that feeling of vulnerability, which will essentially give me courage. Not to shrink and make my life smaller, which actually causes my anxiety to get worse, but to wrap my arms around feeling vulnerable. I want to feel more confident, more courageous, and the way to do that is to be okay with the outcome. As I drove under the high-rise buildings in Seattle, I completely relaxed and my anxiety dissipated. I had made a decision: I will lean into vulnerability, I will embrace it with all that I have, and I will give myself permission to “forget” to worry about the outcome. The more I relax into being okay with not being perfect, being okay if I get rejected, being okay if I don’t get everything I want… the less anxiety I feel. People in the spiritual arena call this surrender. People in the religious realm call it faith. You can call it whatever you want. I’m calling it magic.

Somewhere during all this, I started to laugh at myself. I choose a word every year, a touchstone to remind me of where I am and what’s important for me right now, a direction for the year. A few years ago it was LIGHT. Live the light, be the light, let your light shine, etc. For 2019, back at the beginning of January, I had chosen EMBRACE. Well of course! My subconscious knew before I did how versatile that word would be for me this year. Embrace my anxiety. Embrace who I am. Embrace a new direction in my life. Embrace new opportunities. And now, embrace vulnerability.

(By the way, I already knew a lot of this about vulnerability. It wasn't necessarily new info, it just hit me in a way it never had, because #anxietylies and part of my brain had blocked out helpful information such as this. Sometimes we can hear something 20 times, but it doesn’t sink-in until the 21st.)

P.S. I have no illusions that this will “cure” my anxiety. It’s part of my brain, and I know as good as this shift in perception felt, it won’t fix everything. But, it just might help me get back to my version of normal, and out of the struggle of the last several months. Hopefully it will help me push forward with action, instead of hiding, which will in turn give me more of what I want: more connection, more laughter, more success, more ability to help other people. That’s really the best outcome of this I can see from where I stand today – if this allows me to not only help myself, but makes it so I can help other people more effectively, that’s a huge win. My passion and purpose truly is to help other people live more joyful, positive, and peaceful lives.

A couple of resources you may want to check out…

Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability:

The podcast I was listening to (it’s from 2012, I just started listening to podcasts! Hello, late to the Party!):

Brene' and I, 2013. Brene', on the very remote chance you see this blog, I'm terribly sorry for the grainy picture, but it had to be done. I'll take you out for a drink as an apology.


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