Vulnerability is oftentimes the hardest virtue to exercise at the moment we need it most. There’s something about pride that gets in the way of making us feel comfortable exposing our soft flesh of emotions. I can only say as an open admission of guilt that I struggle with letting people into my inner reality, especially when asking others for help. But everything can change out of necessity.
Not long ago, lack of vulnerability launched me into a long-altering journey of transformation far faster than I would have liked. It was a lesson on vulnerability I was not expecting, but needed. It was 2012, and I announced that I was leaving my formal trade of teaching within the classroom. I was in my 30s and had no idea how I was going to support myself in life. Instead of opening up to those who were closest to me and letting them know I needed assistance in finding my way, I chose to walk into a trap of poor judgment. People often asked what I was going to do, and I would provide some half-cocked creation of the next step, but the truth is that I had no clue. How do you tell people that you just want to sleep and never get back up? That’s how I felt. I didn’t want to die; I just wanted physical, mental, and emotional reprieve from the world and its responsibilities.
In my imaginings, I was going to drain my checking and savings accounts, coast on my retirement funds, magically drift onto a windfall of imaginary reserve, and keep it moving. There is no way around it—my desperation, pride and ego provided the perfect storm for a hard lesson learned. And I was about to learn it.
The story that I am about to relay is painful to to reflect upon, but I can now shake my head at the situation instead of crying. Reliving it now, it’s like watching a train wreck in the beginning of a movie, yet sighing an extended breath of relief because you know that everyone lives by the end of the suspenseful tale. The blessing is that I now have the vulnerability to share this cautionary anecdote.
I was relieved when I finally completed my last day of teaching. Happiness abounded, but the days of my initial liberation quickly screeched to a halt as the time came closer toward the end of my financial flexibility. As I was not-so-strategically working through my financial options after my final check had been deposited, I was unfortunately approached with an “investment opportunity” that, of course, sounded too good to be true. My then-neighbor had an “acquaintance” who knew how to multiply funds with some of his “associates.” That sounds so precise, dependable, and trustworthy, right? Have your eyebrows raised yet? Yes, they probably have; however, mine did not. You may be thinking “No, you didn’t…” Well, unfortunately, yes. I did.
In my foolish mindset, I thought it was a brilliant idea to have my money multiplied by nefarious characters. I withdrew my entire retirement savings from nearly ten years of teaching, and gave it to a stranger to “flip” for me. At that time, I only knew the term flip from DIY shows and some local investor friends, but from that limited knowledge of the concept, the outcomes always appeared to be profitable and lucrative. I needed profitable and lucrative to fulfill my new imaginary lifestyle illusion, remember? So, I kept going.
Reconfirming that I was under the impression (or, perhaps, a spell of temporary insanity) that this person was legitimate, I gave him 50 percent of my retirement funds. Needless to say, in the end, nothing flipped except my smile. There were tears. Lots of them. He eagerly took my money and left out on the the first train smoking. He assured me he would contact me to make arrangements to provide my investment returns, but his number quickly changed. For months, I tried to communicate with him, but was unable to. By the time I was able to track him down, all of my money was long gone. I had become the female human embodiment of Lorraine Hansberry’s Walter Lee Younger from A Raisin in the Sun! It was horrible.
Day by day, feeling the gravity of the situation, I attempted to grasp the presumed tragedy of what my life had become. I knew that my few dollars were going to run out, yet I still did not bring myself to be vulnerable and ask my loved ones for help until it was pretty much a lost cause—until I was losing my personal assets and property. At that time, the embarrassment was so overwhelming that my heart could not take opening it up to more criticism, judgment, pain and potentially character assassination. However, I learned that pride indeed goes before a fall. My desperation blinded me, and my lack of vulnerability kicked the cane from under me, though the subsequent lessons saved and strengthened me.
In the end, I garnered many unbelievable lessons as a result of that particular incident. I endured indescribable episodes of depth-constructing sadness. There is no happy spin to disguise the fact that the growing pains nearly killed me, yet I was divinely inspired to record a catalog of journal entries along the journey that I named the “Runaway Diaries.” The events and emotions I experienced during that season showed me about the intricacy of life and the human element, but the greatest lesson learned so far has been that I am to help others with what I have been able to survive.
I see it through a lens of joy now. I consider it a privilege to use all of my experiences up to the present to help others and illustrate that there is light at the end of the tunnel—if you follow it. My willingness to open myself to the world is testimony to the fact that vulnerability has its life-saving place within our emotional ecosystems. Ultimately, we have to be able to look at and reveal the parts of ourselves that are shaky and undercooked in order to arrive at the destination of truth within our existences of now. For us to stand in our strengths of the present, and in order for us to truly make an impact on others, we must first be willing to fall, get back up again, rinse and repeat in order to evolve toward our highest expressions of self. This means it is absolutely essential that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. There is simply no other way to live bravely.