What is the most scary word you can think of?  The one word that comes to mind is vulnerability.  Vulnerability might lead to failure or to a life full of joy and love.  The pendulum can fall either way.

If you are truly courageous, vulnerability is merely an obstacle to hurl yourself over while running down your path to success.  It also requires strategy with a full throttle of execution.

Growing up in a small town in the Midwest women always have to have two things. Our purse, which Yankees call a pocketbook, and an exit plan.

There were times my exit plan was so good, it took people days to realize I wasn’t there.  Vulnerability was avoided at all costs.  Ever met a strong coward?  That was me.

Strength is from within our core.  That which causes us to bolt into uncomfortable situations.  Make decisions based on gut, not comfort.  See the What If—not the if this doesn’t happen.

Time is the biggest, precious, unrenewable resource we have.  And once the realization that courage and vulnerability go hand in hand— wasting it with people or in places that creates negativity or unhappiness was not an option.

When I think about powerful words that can create fear and conversely comfort.  I think about shame and vulnerability.  Conversely empathy and courage.

Courage and vulnerability are complimentary to each other.  You can’t really have courage without vulnerability.  To be brave is to be vulnerable.  Think about that.  In order to walk down the road of vulnerability—risk embarrassment—failure—heartache—you must have courage.

Years ago I was attempting to design a logo for my blog.  I wanted to create something that complimented what my blog is about.  That resonated as sassy, yet smart.  Down a path of strength yet funny.  Something women could relate to and men could appreciate.  The logos began to roll in.  The all time funny one was a Rhinoceros dancing on hind legs down a path of cupcakes.  The inventor of this image was so excited he said in a thrilled inflection, “We all love it!”  My response?  “Don’t use your invisible army with me.  Unless you have a mouse in your pocket, the only one that thinks this is awesome is you.”  Seriously?  Like most women, I’ve had to do my share of body image work.  To the point I’m dangerous.  I can give you my list of flaws in triplicate on a spreadsheet.  Having my image as a dancing Rhino was never going to happen.

The next image was a teddy bear holding a piece of chocolate.  A teddy bear?  The universal image of abuse and neglect.  That was a solid “absolutely not”.

As you can see, the logo became something much less complicated.  My computer and me sitting in a stiletto.  Why do I love stilettos?   Because they always fit—they express your tenacity—they give you power—they set your mood—when I slide my feet into a sassy pair of stilettos—everything changes.  The strut becomes bold.

So what is your relationship between courage and vulnerability?  Are you courageous enough to take chances?  Do you know the agony of defeat to experience the thrill of victory?  Or are you sitting on the sidelines criticizing those of us who are taking chances—jumping in the arena—and squeezing every ounce of life out of every moment?

Vulnerability is the key to wholehearted living and loving.

Years ago I was dating a guy in a complicated relationship.  What made it complicated wasn’t the two of us, but all of the driving forces around us.  Left to our own, we were wonderful.  Add in all of the outside programmed forces, we were a mess of confusion.  At one point we went to  a therapist.  I’d never been to one before.  In the Midwest if someone were to start a sentence with, “my therapist says” people would run screaming from them.  Immediate isolation would occur.

Now please allow me to digress.  If you’ve never gone to a therapist it’s quite the trip.  I walked in nervous about talking to a complete stranger—and left questioning every piece of myself.  By the end of that week, I had researched every flaw I determined myself to have—listed it on a spreadsheet—headed to another therapist and explained we had work to do—and we better get to it —every item —all of them on my list —inclusive of pivot tables.  Scared that therapist half to death.  I’m pretty sure he started drinking heavily after that.

Needless to say, what resonating comment the therapist did give me after telling me I was perfectly fine and didn’t need his help, was that a person willing to see their faults and work on being a better person, doesn’t need a therapist.  They already have their focus.

Of course go onto social media and you’ll see true abnormality.  People begging for attention.  Craving acceptance.  Desperately wanting the world to think their life is “blessed”.

Online—social media— is the cesspool of humanity

Ever wonder what shame is?  It is the feeling you’d get if you walked out of a room encompassing people you know —the ones you thought were your base in life— once you exit— they say such horrible things to a point you could never walk back in there again.  Ever experienced that?  I have.

It is the fear of having that kind of rejection causing us to not take chances.  Fear of isolation.

The question to ask yourself —Is it worth it to you to step into the arena and play big?  We have all heard the infamous Theodore Roosevelt speech about the man in the arena. Probably the most widely quoted speech in history.  For those of you who are not familiar with it:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

He also in the same speech said, “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.  A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not of superiority but of weakness.”

Why is it when people are too scared themself to take a risk, they criticize those of us who are able to set aside our fears and attempt what they are not courageous enough to?

Someone once told me I was able to take risks because I didn’t have as much to lose if things went South.  It is amazing to me the self inflicted obligations people can create to justify fear.

There is a man at this very moment living his days in a miserable marriage.  Why is it miserable?  Many reasons.  The most imperative, he lives a life absent of intimacy and passion.  Nothing in common with his spouse except children and grandchildren.  A quiet person sitting in a life he feels obligated to.  Sex with his partner minimal at best and unemotional.  His kids grown with lives of their own.  His desire to leave for a life filled with happiness and adventure at his fingertips.  Yet his fear of failure overpowering.  This describes many marriages unfortunately.  Hitting the pillow at night exhausted from misery only to wake up and look at their partner in disdain.  Their lives losing oxygen with each passing day.  How many people do you know that finally get the courage to leave—only to look back and say they should have left 10 years earlier as now they know true happiness?  If only they’d had the courage to be vulnerable.

I’ve moved around the entire US by myself.  Knowing absolutely no one in the new cities I was relocating to.  I have had numerous people say to me, “I could NEVER move into a place knowing no one.  How do you do that?”  I’d never thought to think in that way.  It was a new adventure.  Did I fail at my new adventures?  Sometimes.  I’ve failed at a lot of things in my life.  With each failure I criticized myself into oblivion—cried—A LOT—ever heard the term “ugly crying”?  That was me—personified.

After ugly crying, my next bottomed out move was a bag of peanut butter cups and reruns of my favorite sitcoms.  When my sugar high took me to the headache level, I’d switch to chips.  Continuing on the salt to sugar combination until I’d made myself dizzy.

At some point, I’d look in the mirror and realize the only thing either was accomplishing was a swollen, red face—and weight gain.  On one of these occasions I did figure out what a calorie was.  They are those little pains in the butt that go into our closets when we are sleeping at night and stitch our clothes so they don’t fit any longer!

If you relate to criticizing yourself beyond what any other human can do and then burying that empty feeling into a bag of peanut butter cups—you’re my people.  You’re my tribe.

Eventually, I’d regroup and refocus.

Why are we so terrified of shame and rejection?

After pushing myself through a broken body—inflicted on me by another person—through the pain of recovery—fighting through the mental destruction—rebuilding myself inside and out—I made the decision to live in the arena.  I would show up and take chances.  Squeeze every ounce of life out of every day.  Embrace change.

There is a risk though.  When you are brave with your life.  When you choose to be in the arena.  One thing is definite.  You will get your butt kicked.  You will fail.  Fall to your knees.  You will know defeat and heartbreak.  It is one thing to straighten your shoulders —stand tall—and proclaim you’re in the arena.  However, to actually be there is rough.  It’s a choice you make every single day.  Those that are in the arena—lying in the dirt next to you—bloodied and bruised—they understand.  You are my tribe.

Have no use for the ones sitting in the stands—criticizing—knocking others down to diminish their fears.

Today choose courage over fear.  Choose to be brave.  Be willing to risk failure and criticism.

It’s not about winning or losing.  It’s having the courage to show up when you have absolutely no control of the outcome.

What is vulnerability to you?

Being able to leave a marriage after years of misery not knowing what the world brings?

The first date after a divorce.

Trying to explain why you don’t have children when in truth a strong blow to the stomach by another human took that ability away, causing your body to have the ability to get pregnant but not be able to carry to term.  Then having to listen to someone tell you, “you’re not a parent so you don’t understand.”

Saying I love you first.

Saying I love you and having the person you love tell you they don’t “love you like they should”.

If you’re going to join me in the arena.  It’s really great.  There are many other people there just as strong.  Just as beat up.  People who are so strong, they will stretch out a helping hand even when they are bleeding out with pain.

Vulnerability is not weakness.  It’s the most accurate way to measure courage.

After worrying about everyone else’s opinions about me for years.  Trying to make people proud of me who never would be.  My conclusion in life finally is—If you are not in the arena getting your butt kicked on occasion because you are being brave I am not interested in what you think about me or my life.

There are millions of cheap seats in the world today filled with people who aren’t brave enough to step into the arena but they will make it a full time job to hurl criticism and judgement and cruel things toward us.   Don’t dissect their words and pull it close to yourself.  Just let it fall to the ground—jump over it and keep going.

Criticism and feedback from people who aren’t brave in their own lives is useless, it will only crack your armor and crush you.  Push it away.  Run from it like a terrorist with a gun.

Negativity and betrayal will diminish every piece of you.  That is what the bystanders on the sidelines want.  They want you to fail.  It gives them satisfaction.  They can’t wait to say, “I told you so”or “I knew you’d fail”.  We are hard wired to care what people think.  But I’m here to tell you not to give a s*** what any of those cowards think.

Be specific of the people you do care about their opinions.  Be very calculated in who you allow on that list.  It only takes a small amount of vinegar to sour the entire bucket of milk.

People who love you not despite your imperfections but because of them.  People who challenge you in a good way to be a better person.  Those people running across the arena to pick you up—pull you back on your feet—brace you up when you’re down until you can stand without assistance again.

In 2013, I lost my beloved dog.  Most people think the world of their pets.  This dog —everyone loved.  He was a true saint.  When everyone else is telling you how awesome your dog is— not you telling everyone—that’s when you know.  I will concede that having a dog as your number one companion in life is not smart given their short life span.   However, by the time I realized how embedded my life was with his—it was already in play.  When he was diagnosed with cancer, it was devastating.  The man I was with at the time loved him as much as me.  When his spleen ruptured from the cancer and the difficult decision came to have to euthanize—this man was with us.  He said to me, “you know I can’t stay in the room” in a somber voice.  My words, “you know I won’t leave him”. He was my heart and I wouldn’t let the last thing he saw on this earth be a stranger.  With his last breath, my heart ripped from my body.  To this day, I can remember the emptiness—the hole—the ache.  In my grief, the world was empty—disjointed.  I needed the man in my world to hold me—tell me my life would be ok—for him to tell me until it was, he would have my back.  Hold me up.

In society we have norms.  Think about that.

Feminine norms – appearance and body image

Masculine norms – don’t be perceived as weak

When my dog passed.  In all of my grief, I was unable to look at what this man was going through.  Four days after euthanizing my dog, he said, “I can not continue to feel guilty about you losing him.”  I’ve thought about that through the years.  It wasn’t my grief bothering him.  It was the feeling he was weak —the guilt he was inflicting on himself for not staying in the room.  Even though that never crossed my mind.  Even though I never perceived him as weak.  He was putting that on himself.  Societal norms.  To a point he wanted everything to just go away so he wouldn’t be reminded of anything.  Looking back, I failed him by not communicating  better to let him know everyone handles things in their own way.  There was no right or wrong.  We were both hurting.

Why is it the brain always wants a story it understands —a story it can protect you with.  It wants a good guy—it wants a place to put fault and blame—a bad guy.  The person telling the story typically wants to be the good guy.  Unless you have a brain like mine, then you are consistently the bad guy.  But why does there have to be either?

Why can’t we just show up and support each other?

Now sanity wasn’t necessarily my gift in life.   When someone told me I couldn’t do something it typically fueled my fury to do so.  Once the statement “watch me” hit my brain—I was hell bent to do whatever it was to prove them wrong.

What I have found is the most resilient people are fueled by fury.  They know what it’s like to be on the ground bleeding and have others criticize them instead of helping them back up.  To be aware and cognizant of others we care about.

If a woman can sit with a vulnerable man and not use it to overpower him but just be with him.  Not use his weakness to fuel power.  She has become his strength.  His power.

Show me a guy who can sit with a woman in fear and shame and vulnerability who doesn’t have to fix anything but can just listen.  He’s a guy who doesn’t derive his power and status from being the incredible wizard the  fixer of all things.  He doesn’t criticize her, rather he holds her until she is strong again.

Neither holding anything in the past as power for the future.  These are the people to surround yourself with.  Those that deserve our attention and time.

Girls you know the man that makes you weak.  The one we all should run from.  We have all had one in our life.  This is the ex that keeps those heart strings pulled taut. The one that goes weeks and then suddenly texts at 1:00 am to tell you they are thinking about you. The one that will rekindle your hopes and dreams for a few days and then vanish into their own reality, leaving you to wonder what you did wrong—again.  The one that feeds off of knowing you still have feelings.  However, doesn’t understand the immense heart they lost.  If you are experiencing this in your life as you read—the only thing you did wrong was let them jump the boundary fence you need to guard.  Don’t give someone an open door policy when they’ve vacated. You are not a back up plan.  Believe in your worth.  And don’t let anyone define that worth for you.

I have determined if you always have to have a good guy and a bad guy your world will become very contained.

In the arena, there are no good guys, or bad guys.  There are strong people willing to give everything they have in the hope of success.  They know the agony of defeat.  Of being beaten to a point of quitting—yet they stand back up—dust off—and try again.

My hope is to meet all of you in the arena.

Helping each other up when we fall.

To be vulnerable is to be courageous.

The benefits far outweigh the risk!

Stay healthy!