For many years, I hated the concept of vulnerability. I would never admit it. Why? That would be way too uncomfortable. I think it’s because for me to be vulnerable, I had to be comfortable with the real me—and that was very hard to do.
Vulnerability is not just about exposing the parts of you that are attractive, witty and enchanting. It’s about showing those parts you desperately keep concealed. The desire to hide our true self is universal, regardless of sex, race or nationality. We all have those weaknesses we hide for fear of rejection, shame, and judgment.
However, personally seeing, acknowledging and being willing to share the scariest parts of you with those you love is what vulnerability is all about. You’ve got to share and love all of you if you are to embrace true vulnerability.
Remember the latest incarnation of movie Cinderella that came out in 2015? (Yes, I am a guy who likes chick flicks. What of it?) I love the scene in Cinderella when the prince and his entourage show up at her house. The evil stepmother tries to hide Cinderella in the attic, but while singing the Top-10 Medieval Hit Lavender’s Blue Dilly Dilly, the prince has his captain investigate and Cinderella is exposed. She is summoned downstairs to try on the glass slipper.
As she walks down the stairs in her dirty rags with soot all over her face, she is no princess, or at least she isn’t dressed like one. She is just Cinderella. The prince only knows her as this beautiful princess, with a magnificent gown and gorgeous horse-drawn coach. Now, in this moment of raw truth, she must face her Prince Charming without the façade to cover the parts of her life that some would find unappealing.
It’s no wonder that she is petrified. As she comes down the stairs to try on her glass slipper, she pauses, and she looks at her filthy, truthful self in the mirror. Would who she was, who she really was, be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. This is perhaps the greatest risk that any of us will take. To be seen as we truly are. There’s no enchantment, no Fairy Godmother, no makeup, no dowry, just the real her.
Like Cinderella, we all ask this same question: Will we be enough as we truly are? One day, the question will come. You will be asked, Who are you?
And if you’re brave enough, you will answer honestly without diluting or omitting facts. I have nothing. I am nothing, but who I am.
And to the person who asks you who you are, you will ask in return, So? Will you take me as I am?
One day, the answer will be, Of course, I will. But only if you will take me as I am. Hand in hand, Shall we? Your reply: Yes, we shall.
It is easy to see Cinderella admitting her vulnerability in this scene. However, the Prince is also admitting that, while to many, his life seems charmed and without challenges, he knows differently. Being a prince carries with it enormous obligations, pressures, and heartache. Losing one’s anonymity and living under the constant spotlight of the public’s judgment is not for the faint of heart and he, too, is vulnerably asking Cinderella to take on this heavy burden.
It was C.S. Lewis who said: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
The morale? Do not lock your heart and vulnerability away from those you love. If you do, you will never know real love. The reality is that when you share your weaknesses and vulnerability, you show others the real you. You are vulnerably showing others your strengths.
Many read the Cinderella story and create delusional images in their heads as to what true love is and how marriage should work. Do not get me started on the “lived happily ever after” myth that I, and many others, wrestle with. We can save that for another post. Nevertheless, the more profound meaning here extends far beyond the relationships between husband and wife, partners, or lovers. For me, this is a broader reflection of any true friendship that you have with another person, where vulnerability is key.
The fact is, vulnerably allowing friends to see the real you will be the scariest and greatest gift you ever give—both to yourself and to the other person. And that’s because the reward of being transparent and unashamedly you is freeing, renewing, comfortable, and as home as you will ever be.
Art Coombs, is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is the Founder & CEO of KomBea Corp.