At indeterminate intervals I catch up with a wonderful group of women friends for food, wine and laughter. During the last few years I’ve been part of several groups like this but our self-dubbed “Works in Progress” (WIP) group is something special. It is these wonderful women who have made me ponder the surprising power of vulnerability.
After another wonderful night out recently, we were reflecting on what it was about this group and the space we collectively create that makes it so special. In some ways we’re a uniform bunch – midlife women who have had big roles and worked hard. Most of us have children. Some of us have partners, some do not. All of us have experienced the ups and downs of life in general, and midlife, in particular. When we get together we share what is happening in each of our lives – we toast the good and listen and support the bad.
But the thing that sets this group apart and makes it the “go to group” for all of us is that we are vulnerable with each other. Over the seven years we’ve been getting together we have crafted a safe space born of sharing our lives, but the thing that has made the difference has been that we have shared the bad as well as the good. This is a place where any pretence of looking like we’ve got this midlife thing all figured out falls away and we genuinely share not only what is going on for us but how we’re feeling about it. Better still, the others will listen without trying to fix whatever ‘it’ is for us.
Contrast this with another group I was part of for a while. We also caught up for food and wine but the conversations were very different. While we talked about what we were doing, how things were at work and, in the case of those who had children – what they were up to, we never ever strayed into the realm of what wasn’t going so well, what we were struggling with and what challenges we were facing that we didn’t feel quite up to. As a result, I used to come home feeling some how less than – less confident, less able, less worthy, as I compared my insides to others outsides. Perhaps not surprisingly this group didn’t last the test of time, as one by one, individuals and circumstances peeled us apart.
The fundamental difference between these two groups for me was not the intent or the general quality of the people, but the courage to open up and share the good, the bad and the ugly. As Brene Brown has observed: “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.”
I’m not proposing we go out and share our insides indiscriminately with the world – there is definitely such a thing as too much information! Yet, in the presence of those people worthy of our trust, sharing who we are and how we’re experiencing life is how we connect deeply with others and how we give them permission to do the same.
As Brene advises: “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky.”
There is a myth that building this kind of trust takes time. While time helps, what’s more important is courage – courage to open up, courage to be vulnerable, courage to risk an unknown response from others. The reward for this courage is the deep connections that are the very best part of a delicious second half.
So how are you doing in the vulnerability stakes? Do you have one or two people in your life with whom you can be truly yourself?