Manly Men Are Vulnerable

What Does It Even Mean To Be Vulnerable?

Typing this article is not easy. Even the sheer act of typing is a struggle right now. I find my mind in a tug and war with itself. And it’s losing. The ebbs and flows of life prey on my emotional shoreline… my resilience. I’m now waste deep in the waves that I used to look to for answers.

I’m embarrassed that I even feel this way. I have no right to feel this way. There are millions of people who would literally risk death to be in my situation. But, as Einstein illustrated in his Theory of Relativity, it’s all about how you see things.


I’m still not convinced that I should be sharing this story. There is such thing as sharing too much. Where vulnerability becomes awkward and inappropriate. I’ll try to stay within the bounds of appropriateness, but I guess that will depend on who’s reading.

 

The School Of Life

Jamie was almost finished reading his paragraph. I was sitting at the desk behind him, the second row from the right of the classroom, third desk from the front.

I had spent the previous five minutes obsessing over the paragraph I would need to read. The paragraphs were dominoes being knocked down one by one. I would always figure out which paragraph I would need to read as soon as the exercise would start to see what I would be dealing with. My paragraph started with the letter P. P for Paul. I repeatedly looked around and panicked. But there was nowhere to go.

When Jamie finished his paragraph, the teacher looked at me. Her name escapes me but she was sympathetic to my struggles. The room was silent. I tried to start the paragraph but it was obvious that it was not happening. My face would contort with each attempt to start the paragraph, much like when you’re trying to blow up a balloon that refuses to budge. ‘P… Pa…’. Nothing.

I know it sounds like a cliché but time literally stood still. If you’ve ever stuttered, you know what I’m talking about. I had no out. Not until the teacher threw me a lifeline and moved to the next person.

As if the anxiety and trepidation of the moment weren’t punishment enough, all the while, I could hear the snickering and jokes. I was 7 years old. This happened nearly every day for years.

Things didn’t get better in any of my other classes either, but for different reasons.

I was a cute little boy with ears that happened to stick out quite a bit. So much so that I was a constant target of ridicule. It would have been bearable in isolation but coupled with my stuttering, it made life unbearable. Dumbo. Big ears. I could list a dozen other insults. All of them hurt. I was 7 years old.

I prayed for another kid to have something ‘more wrong’ with them so I would be spared the endless unyielding teasing.

There was one kid who just stared into space all the time. Like he was on another planet. At the time he reminded me a little of Frankenstein. He was bigger than the rest of us. That could have been why. Our experience as children is so hard to relate to when we are young.

When I think back, he was far from Frankenstein but that little Frankenstein provided me the odd respite from the torment.

At the time, I guess I was aware that other kids in the world had it worse. But at five, six, or seven years old, it doesn’t really sink in. When you stand out that much, suffering is suffering. To a seven-year-old, there is no rationalization of what you are experiencing. It just hurts. A lot. And this hurt lays some pretty serious tracks on the highways of your brain.

I became a very nervous kid. I remember one phase where I would think everything I touched was poison. I woke my sister one night at 4 am because I touched my bedpost. I asked her if it was poison. It was debilitating and beyond difficult for my parents to deal with.

I went through a series of nervous tendencies. None of them were part of a pattern. They were just random anxieties by a kid that was the butt of every joke. I didn’t try to make sense of each one because, like an autoimmune disease, the results of a foreign invader are hard to predict. My foreign invader was the incessant teasing.

We can never know how our consciousness will be shaped by so much adversity. It’s completely unpredictable. The only certainty is that this negative energy will leave a mark.

When I think back to my childhood I have huge gaps. Some things are so clear, yet some things don’t even register. I’ve never been able to shake those memories from Grade 2… or Grade 3, or Grade 4 for that matter.

My stuttering continued long into junior high. When my stuttering became less debilitating, my ears became the focal point. Junior high and high school were especially difficult times for me and my big ears. My mom actually gave me a Toni home perm when I was in Grade 8, so it would hide my ears. It did the job, but I had a Toni home perm. A f__ng Toni home perm. It was a lose-lose situation. Just a different thing to tease.

These early blows hurt me in a bad way. Only time would unveil how this would shape the rest of my life.

 

The Impact Of Adversity

I’m not sure when my personality started to change. The need to be stronger. The drive to not let anything in. To not be vulnerable. But it did change.

My focus was to forever avoid being that teased boy in the classroom. I strove to be perfect in everything. I was petrified of failure. I got very defensive. I had a hard time receiving any criticism. I was increasingly less aware of how I was behaving and my opportunities for improvement.

But I also changed in some good ways. I got physically stronger. I studied harder. I worked harder. I did what I had to do to achieve what I thought was success. But when I became ‘successful’, I realized that I was still that scared little kid in the classroom. I wasn’t happy and I was scared.

Unbeknownst to me, I was insulating myself from the outside world. I was increasingly petrified that someone would think I wasn’t worthy. That I was an imposter. So I only shared the good parts, while suppressing the fears, doubts, and anxieties. God forbid I show any weakness. I was never going to be that kid again. Vulnerability wasn’t an option. Spoiler alert, this hasn’t served me well.

 

Why Be Vulnerable?

Sometimes I question what vulnerability even means. Daring Greatly, written by Brene Brown provided me with a little more insight.

I now realize that I have been harbouring the same emotions that are associated with shame. As Brown puts it, shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and unworthy of love and belonging.”

Brown highlights that many of us have shame but are afraid to talk about it. The less we talk about it the more control it has over us, and the more of an identity we provide it. Shame holds us back and fuels the need to put others down to lift us up.

Instead of repressing our shame we need to walk towards it. We need to spend time with it. We need to be open about our challenges and opportunities to be better, both to others and to ourselves. We need to be more vulnerable.

So, if I chose to be vulnerable what will that accomplish? Am I best to keep my childhood-born insecurities to myself? Maybe some people don’t want to hear my sob story. Maybe they have a worse story. As I said, everything is relative, so I’m hoping my story relates to a few people out there.

 

The Path To Becoming More Resilient

If vulnerability represents our exposure to pain, resilience is the power to overcome this pain. It’s our ability to bounce back stronger.

Think of the two as a muscle. Vulnerability is the muscle at work. It’s putting your resilience to the test. The harder you work, the more little tears to the muscle, the stronger you become. Resilience is the developed ability to recover. The healthier the muscle, the quicker it recovers. The more resilient the mind, the greater your ability to deal with adversity. And the good news is that you can become more resilient over time.

For example, Jacob Held in his book Dr. Seuss and Philosophy demonstrates this notion quite well:

“Sometimes things will go our way, but often, they won’t. The person who is able to live best and most successfully is someone who has developed the ability to think rationally and thoughtfully about what really matters, who can learn from her mistakes and continually improve the raft upon which she sails the sea of life, and who can make wise decisions. As Seuss says, “Life’s a Great Balancing Act”. The key is to find the right balance.

You can’t run to another place to avoid problems and failures. No matter which path you take, there is no place you can go to escape your problems. Dr. Suess provides a solution in Solla Sollew, he writes, “I’ve bought a big bat, I’m ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me.””

I guess that’s the goal worth striving for. “You can’t run to another place to avoid your problems.”, you need to hit your problems head on. Be vulnerable. Take the biggest lumps possible. Allow them to leave a mark. Otherwise, there is no growth. But then fight back hard. Always fight back.

Remember, the greater the adversity, the greater the emotional inertia, the greater your resilience. At some point, you’ll notice that the thing that defeated you, is merely an event.

According to Jacob Held, “if in this darkest hour you can affirm your life and declare you would do it all over again and gladly, then you redeem your life in a singular moment of affirmation. This requires a strong spirit.”

 

I’m Not Perfect, But That’s OK

So where does that leave me today? I don’t stutter anymore and I got my ears surgically pinned back as a teenager. The source of my childhood struggles is gone but the impact will always be with me. In short…

I’m more self-aware but I still need to open myself up to more constructive feedback.

  • I share more than I used to but am still afraid of rejection.
  • I’m less afraid to lose a romantic partner, this can be unsettling to a partner as I can seem aloof at times.
  • I’m more prone to take risks but am still deathly afraid of failure.

My journey has brought me to a point where I need to convert those ‘but’s into ‘and’s.

  • I’m more self-aware AND will continue to open myself up to more constructive feedback.
  • I share more than I used to AND I am going to deal with rejection better.
  • I’m less afraid to lose a romantic partner AND will ensure that I don’t come off as aloof.
  • I’m more prone to take risks AND will view failure as growth.

My life is well on its way, yet it feels like my journey is just beginning. I will continue to walk towards my pain. I will still make mistakes but I’m becoming less afraid of them. I have hope that one day I’ll be able to go back and tell that scared kid, “Don’t worry Gary, one day it will all make sense.”

 


 

Books featured:

Jacob Held – Dr. Seuss In Philosophy 

Brene Brown – Daring Greatly 

Author Description

Gary LeBlanc

Gary LeBlanc is recognized as an international thought leader in coaching individuals towards their purpose. Although Gary found success in the corporate world, his former career as a Vice President for a Fortune 500 company left him searching for his own purpose. When a close friend got diagnosed with cancer 8 years ago, Gary realized that health & wellness was more than just an interest, it was his passion. He has spent the better part of 20 years researching the latest diet, health, and fitness trends. As CEO of Ikkuma Inc., Gary is focused on living his purpose by helping people find their SuperHuman. A McGill University engineering and MBA graduate, Gary is also a certified coach practitioner, personal trainer, and most recently a published author, with his book titled ‘Ikkuma: Evolution of Vitality’. Follow Gary: @ikkumagary Gary LeBlanc Facebook Ikkuma

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