Coinciding with a lightbulb moment along this journey, I discovered the wonderful work of Brene Brown. Brene calls herself a storyteller/researcher and for the past decade she has studied the concept of vulnerability. You can read more about her work at her website, here. In 2010 Brene presented her landmark talk on the power of vulnerability at the annual TED conference and the video has since had more than nine million hits. You can find it here.
Brene’s presentation confirmed much of what I had come to understand about my own vulnerability.
I’m not sure where it came from, for my father was not particularly macho, but my firm belief up until my late thirties was that vulnerability represented weakness and was to be avoided at all costs. I suppose hand in hand with that philosophy was that if connections happened then all well and good, but essentially that was only a bi-product of getting a job done. This worked for me for about a decade and a half as I focused my energies in making it in the business world. Looking back at that time, it worked because I backed my business skills and didn’t feel any real risk in putting those skills out there. I knew I was the real deal and had the goods to prove it.
But, and this is a big but, it’s not what I was doing in my personal life. For some reason, I didn’t back myself in that sphere, spent a lot of time seeking approval and my personal connections suffered. So having woken up I went on a quest to strengthen my existing personal connections and to better understand how to make succesful connections. As Brene says in the video, humans are hard-wired for connection, it gives purpose and meaning to our lives. To show you how far I have come, I have no shame in admiting I had little clue about connections back then. Those I had were principally because the other people were great connectors and to them I am eternally grateful for deciding to invest in me and for teaching me about vulnerability.
I now know and understand that to connect you have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to go forth in the world with your authentic self without any guarantee that you will be accepted and not get hurt. Authenticity was never the issue, but rather the making of the first move. I have since come to understand that not everyone will accept you, but if they do not then firstly, it says more about them than you and secondly, these experiences teach you courage.
Type A alpha personalities have never been at the top of my list. Although probably a gross over generalisation, most alphas I have encountered are quite scared underneath. This results in some undesirable behaviours and the energy required to keep up the alpha front must be tremendous. Give me a guy or girl with a quiet strength who is not afraid to show their vulnerability or who is prepared to make themselves vulnerable by acknowledging the contribution of others and I’ll take them any day of the week over the alpha types. To me there is an attractiveness in vulnerability, probably because it comes from a place of authenticity rather than bravado. Vulnerability speaks and is an ingredient of commonality. How many times have you been in a situation where you have been introduced to someone and once you get talking they admit to some small imperfection or action that was ineffective and you immediately feel closer to that person? I have many times, for usually I think if he or she sounds too good to be true, he or she probably is.
In her video, Brene mentions the struggle with vulnerability and that most people deal with it by numbing their emotions. The problem as she points out is that you can’t selectively just numb the bad emotions, by numbing you end up muting joy, gratitude and happiness as well. And how do we numb? As Brene points out we do it by:
- trying to make the uncertain, certain – think religion and politics
- perfecting, for example our bodies, our children – our job as parents is not to give them a perfect life, but to prepare them to deal with an imperfect life
- pretending that what we do does not affect others
I have since chosen to be prepared to make the first move in forming a connection, without any guarantee of success. I’d rather chance a negetive response than become comfortable in my disconnectedness. I’d also rather chance the relationship ending than never having the opportunity to have it in the first place.
I therefore choose risk, mess and vulnerability and by doing so I choose to add grey and colour to my life over only black and white and feeling over numbness.
Today, I give myself permission to be vulnerable.
We have all probably also had enough of deception and of pain when our trust in someone or something has been broken. I know I have.
The idea of never trusting again holds little appeal. For trust is an essential ingredient to connecting on more than a superficial level. It begins in childhood with the whole ‘I”ll show you mine, if you show me yours” concept and evolves as we mature to “I’ll share with you mine, if you share with me yours”. And when there’s true sharing, the trust and the endorphins flow. Trust is a cornerstone of not only social relationships but also of business relationships as embodied in notions such as the trusted advisor and the trustee steed. Where would the Loan Ranger have been without Silver? Possibly Hi Hoed, but very much stationary.
Trusting means opening up your life so that others can enter. As the saying goes, a life without trust is the ultimate prison. And I truly believe this. Storming the Bastille can be hard and unforgiving work.
So, today I give myself permission to:
Trust the moment…
…for worry never solved anything and only gives you frown lines
Trust in God…
…all others must pay cash
Trust my instincts…
…because my tummy tells me so
Trust in Ellen…
…because she says funny stuff like “People always ask me “Were you funny as a child? Well, no, I was an accountant.” And child accountants are very trustworthy not to mention, funny
Trust the path I’m on…
…or that I have the ability to switch to another one if it turns out to be a deadend
Trust in my authenticity…
the internet bloggers…
…to provide some creative quality distraction.
I have been married to the Italian Stallion for more than two decades. When we first met back in the dark ages we spent some time comparing our respective realities and decided that we were a pretty good fit. The big items were all processed and ticked (checked) and the courtship culminated in a marriage proposal….eventually…..after seven years and well, it was a leap year. We were married nine month’s later, went on our honeymoon and then we started to live together.
That’s when each of us REALLY got acquainted with the other’s reality. The first decade of our marriage was about whose reality was better. Ah, young love…aint it grand? The next decade was about making our own new, bigger and better combined reality, something we have done with moderate success. The third decade is still a work in progress but involves consolidating and building on that combined reality and helping our children create their own.
Let me give you a pictorial sense of our reality on a few of the more significant marital issues:
His Reality My Reality
His Reality My Reality
His Reality My Reality
His Reality My Reality
What happens when realities collide? Apart from the smoke and ash that eventually settles, it’s not really the black hole that one would think. Life is certainly not dull and we all bring our prespectives to the household.
And now, taking my tongue right out of my cheek, I am hoping to make this the best decade yet with the Italian Stallion and to continue to carve out our new reality in middle age.
If you have ever been to Venice, you would have seen the amazing Venetian masks on display. The masks originated in Medieval times in Italy due to the religious oppression that then existed. Behind their masks people in Venice used to feel free to indulge in certain activities frowned upon by the religious authorities. They were made of paper- mâché and decorated in gold, feathers, gems, ribbons and fur. Today they are used in street carnivals. They look ornate and distinctive, but pick them up and they feel fragile. You will find them everywhere in Venice.
Many people wear masks, even when it is not carnival time. These masks are not decorated or colourful like the Venetian masks, in fact they are almost invisible. However, the principle behind them is the same, namely they make the wearer feel free to indulge in certain activities or engage in certain ways.
When I was in my early thirties, a highly ambitious thing and knee-deep in my career, I would put on my career woman’s mask. Back then I felt uncomfortable talking about motherhood, parenting, really any out of office life at all for fear of being judged not committed or dedicated in what was a male dominated environment. I would wait until either a male colleague or client would raise the subject of family or children first and then I would be comfortable in contributing. Talk about golf, rugby union and beer was highly accepted, sadly I was not into any of those.
I am happy to say that times appear to have moved on, both in the industry and in society in general. The other facet to this of course is that I have reached middle age, am comfortable with my skills and ability to deal with professional issues and have less need to hide my authentic personal self from my professional self. My intuition and bull sh*t detector also seem to have been honed over the years to the point where I am happy to rely on them in real life. I am going to leave the digital world out of this discussion as that world is a whole other ball of wax.
Apart from my professional mask, I’ve never really felt the need to have any others. However, I have known people who are not this way, some have more masks than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have children. Just when you think you’ve managed to peel one off, another one is revealed. It must take an astronomical amount of energy to maintain these masks and then do they show different masks to different people, or have a different order in which they are removed for each person?
The vibe of an interaction between two authentic selves is totally different to one where one of the protagonists is wearing a mask. There is usually a real energy to such an interaction, which may not always be positive if you are disagreeing and I’m ok with that. I’d rather have an authentic interaction than one muted by a mask. It’s why I seek out people who are themselves authentic.
I am done with masks, masks represent fear. The next one I don will be at carnival time hopefully either in Rio, Venice or New Orleans and be covered in jewels, feathers and a whole lot of colour.
What’s your experience with mask wearers?
[Photo credit: picture of taking off the mask by frostmaster on deviantart.com]
I have been married to Mr Curtain Raiser (aka the Italian Stallion) for more than two decades. What he doesn’t know is that sometimes he has had competition in the form of fictional characters. I’m sure we have all been there – fallen in “love” with a character we have found in a novel or a movie and feeling bereft and heartbroken when the book or film ends.
Here is my list of the 5 fiction characters I would wed (in no particular order):
- Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – you’ve got to love a man who outwardly is cold and aloof and vastly superior but is a marshmallow inside. I have a soft spot for proud men who after scratching the surface reveal a great deal of humanity. Having status and money and a nice piece of real estate in Pemberly doesn’t hurt either and neither does looking good in breeches or smouldering whilst soaking wet in a lake. My quintessential Mr Darcy has to be Colin Firth in the BBC production.
- Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle in Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh – Wulfric is a highly respected wealthy duke with the ability of silencing a room with a look or two softly whispered words, his presence is that commanding. He is one of 6 children and the oldest and has been raised in appropriate isolated ducal fashion. A man who puts duty and propriety above all, he is totally befuddled by Christine Derrick, a commoner with an enchanting and defiant spirit. Deep inside Wulfric is still that lonely child raised to carry out duty and keep the family wealth and blood lines going. His awkwardness in social situations, loyalty to his family and the war within between duty and love make him strong, yet vulnerable – a heady combination.
- William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) in Bride and Prejudice – hmmm, there seems to be a pattern emerging here, now that I write these down, however I assure you the similarities with entry no. 1 are surface only. Take one American from a dysfunctional, wealthy family and drop him into the colour and spectacle of India, with Amritsar and Goa as backdrops, add cheesy Bollywood song and dance routines and a former Indian Miss World, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and you have the makings of a classic. This William Darcy is so lovable not only because of his eyes (how good are they?), but because he is absolutely lost trying to navigate Indian custom and tradition and he doesn’t stand a chance against the female character’s mother. Also you have to admire the will power of any man who can wait to kiss his bride until after the wedding.
- Leopold (played by Hugh Jackman) in Kate and Leopold – there’s just one word to say here and that’s “gentleman”. Leopold takes his 1870 gentlemanly ways and manners and transports them to modern-day New York to romance Kate, played by Meg Ryan. What makes Leopold so great is that he knows how to woo a lady, 1870′s style – with a slow burn. His 1870′s speech and sense of style just makes you long for a quieter, gentler time, when marriages were made to last. And well, the character is played by Hugh Jackman – enough said.
- Edward Lewis (played by Richard Geer) in Pretty Woman - a man with a killer wardrobe who takes over companies and makes gazillions but has to pay for a call girl for companionship - what’s not to love? No walking barefoot on the grass or driving his own car for this man, he has to be shown how to get a life and kudos for him, he listens! A man who can get rid of his long-standing, sleazy lawyer because the lawyer has maligned the woman he has known for a mere four days is pure class. Add a fear of heights, a fear of committment and a proposal after an aha moment and you are on your way. And with dialogue like this, throw away the pre-nup:
she: “you’re late”
he: “you’re stunning”
she: “you’re forgiven”.
I have always wondered what happened to these characters after the last page or frame of film. Several follow ups to Pride and Prejudice are in my reading pile and I’m sure I will get around to them eventually.
As for Mr Italian Stallion, his position is safe – there have been no lake-swimming dukes commuting by elephant who have overcome their fear of heights to climb up the fire stairs to propose to me…. yet.
Who is on your list?
Women are wonderful, truly! I am grateful for each and every one of my female friendships. All of my female friends add different things to the pot pourri of my life.
I have an admission to make. It wasn’t until recently that I developed a real understanding of what it means to not only have but to be a good female friend. It’s funny how middle age has focused my lenses about certain matters. Looking back at my first act, I can see that I approached my female friendships with a certain wariness. I have a sense that I am now playing catch up. Better the getting of wisdom late than never.
Recently, I found I’m not alone in what was my wariness. I happened upon a book, The Twisted Sisterhood by Kelly Valen which explores the negative side of female relationships. It is a fascinating read and it demonstrates that women from all walks of life and levels of education have suffered at the hands of a fellow sister or several sisters. The behaviour cited tends to be insidious, passive aggressive and enduring. It seems to be particularly magnified when tribes or cliques of women are involved. This bears out my own personal experience of finding it easier to relate to women one on one than in a pack.
What I don’t get is why this adolescent sort of behaviour has to translate into adulthood. I have no issue with women bonding with each other over common interests or experiences. There is much solace and comfort to be gained from sharing. But does this have to come at the expense of the feelings of those that are not part of the sharing? Why does clique thinking have to be so black and white?
I’m in, she’s out.
I can’t be friends with her when I am with my clique.
I’m in the know, she’s not and she’s different.
And so it goes. Bonding through mutual jealously and dislike for others is anything but positive. Bitching and creating barriers and territories is short-sighted. Emphasising difference is self -defeating.
I have seen women who are wonderful change when they are in the company of a clique or when they encounter a conflict between their own personal interests and that of their clique. From friend to frenemy in a blink of an eye. Most of us have insecurities in some way shape or form – but clique thinking only serves to feed these.
We all need to be a little kinder to our fellow sisters and a little bit more aware of our effect on others. We also all need to be kinder to ourselves and give ourselves permission to be who we are. Doing so, will only serve to make the world a better place and open ourselves to a wider array of friendships and more meaningful and empowering experiances.
After all, isn’t that what life is really about?
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge