Has this happened to you? You’re struck by a lighting bolt of inspiration. You get really excited to do this brand new thing. Then when you begin, your excitement vanishes and that new thing becomes paralyzingly daunting.
If you've felt that way, you’re not alone. Lately, life is a rollercoaster. One minute the excitement is mounting and I feel eager to strive for a new endeavour that truly matters. The next minute (literally, the next minute), I’m plummeting into decline, brimming with anxiety on how to get it all done and burdened with useless doubt in my ability to pull it all off.
Meanwhile, the doo-doo weather last week did nothing to combat my growing list of to-dos. A stretch of cold, rainy days is hard on the head for anyone. And from a gardener’s perspective, there’s a lot you can’t do when the ground is drenched.
In spite of the rain, we managed to get some tomatoes planted in our caterpillar tunnel. Before moving them to the tunnel, we first moved them to our small greenhouse where we run a space heater. This allowed us to harden-off the transplants from the balmy temperatures of our grow room where they germinated, to the more temperate conditions of the greenhouse, before landing in their final home inside the tunnel.
Hardening off - the process of introducing a transplant to a new environment gradually to improve its hardiness - is required when plants are grown indoors because they are more vulnerable to change.
Essentially, they have been living in cushy environments. They haven’t been given the opportunity to build up the strength to handle stresses caused from wind and extreme temperature fluctuations. Through hardening off, you give tender transplants a chance to adapt to their new home over time. Without this process, they may experience too much of a shock to their systems and perish.
The same can be said for us. When we move between extremes, we suffer (hello terrible burn on that all-inclusive trip to Cancun!). Of course, there are precautions we can take to ease ourselves into new situations. But in some circumstances, we aren’t given the luxury of time to adjust.
Out of fear of the impacts abrupt change may impose on us, we often choose to say in our cushy environment; one that’s comfortable and meets all our immediate needs but that won’t allow us to grow to our greatest potential. So is the case with the tomato. You could leave it inside, but it likely won’t produce as well in a pot as it will with its roots in the ground.
When we describe ourselves as showing vulnerability, that’s often thought of as a weakness. But vulnerability and weakness are not the same thing. Vulnerability simply means there is a possibility of harm or hazard. Weakness is lacking the strength to face it.
In this sense, the active avoidance of being vulnerable is a weakness in itself.
However, it seems the common assumption in life is to avoid putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. We say, “Play hard to get,” to avoid emotional vulnerability. We say, “Get a steady pay check," to avoid financial vulnerability. We say, “Hide your greys” to counteract aging and avoid physical vulnerability. We say, “Stick to what you know” to avoid being intellectually vulnerable. To some degree, we are programmed to believe that avoiding vulnerable situations or circumstances is a strategy to success.
This is where I believe we have it wrong.
And I’m not alone in this belief. Researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown, has studied the subjects of shame and vulnerability extensively. In her highly-entertaining TED talk, she explains the painful process that led her to discover why some people live happier, more fulfilled lives while others seem to suffer through theirs. From her research, she found that:
People who fully embraced vulnerability had a much stronger sense of worthiness.
They wholeheartedly believed they were worth a happy life because they (1) had the courage to be imperfect, (2) had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and (3) had the authenticity to let go of who they should be and connect to who they truly are.
If I asked you to think of some movies that exemplified strength, what comes to mind? For me, one of the first is Braveheart. Yet when I think back to scenes from that movie, what strikes me is the overwhelmingly vulnerable positions William Wallace puts himself in. A bare-armed man on horse, leading his army into battle with what? No real armour. No helmet (at least not in the Hollywood version). Just a lil’ blue face paint.
The funny thing is, being vulnerable is the very precursor to being courageous.
In other words, we discover our courage and strength by putting ourselves in vulnerable positions. Just as the tomato builds strength by being exposed to a harsher environment, if we want to grow and experience progress and fulfillment in our life we have to take those vulnerable steps into the unknown. We have to experience those vulnerable moments where we say, what the f&%k am I doing? It’s only then that we’ll discover just how far we can grow.
To build superpower strength, don’t combat your vulnerability. Embrace it.
While the term hardening-off is used to describe building up a plant’s hardiness (aka their strength) to withstand the great outdoors, I think when it comes to people, the more appropriate term would be softening-up. Rarely are we in circumstances that threaten our survival. More often we are in circumstances that threaten our ego. To fully commit to a new endeavour, we must shed that tough exterior that insists we know what we’re doing, where we’re going and how to get there. Instead, we must settle in to the inherent naiveté of branching out.
In no way am I suggesting you, or I, or anyone just blindly throw ourselves into whatever circumstance and hope for the best. No. Like the tomato plant, we can ease ourselves into new endeavours gradually.
And when, like a tomato plant wilting in the cold, you begin to show signs of stress (e.g. my 3am anxiety to-do list writing as of late), return yourself momentarily to a comfortable, cushy position. Remind yourself of what you do know and what you are capable of, before once again heading out into the great and vulnerable unknown.
How can you embrace your vulnerability right now? What super courage are you denying yourself by avoiding it?