dear hilary: be braver

Dear Hilary,

I just watched the Brené Brown video – the one about being vulnerable, people who live wholeheartedly? Do you know that one? Her Ted Talk? I want to know how you have learned about doing that in your life so far? How do you live vulnerably?

Un-vulnerable in Seattle

Dear Un-vulnerable,

I’ve watched that video a bunch of times in the last few months. It was a suggestion from my counselor, and, like most of her suggestions, it was a good one. When I first saw it, I was sitting in my office at work and worrying about something (I’m a bit of a worrier, I’ll confess). I was eating these really good cookie things I got in the grocery store, 2 boxes for $5, and they promised to be very nutritious and give me hours and hours of energy as well as fill me with the sweet taste of hydrogenated blueberry (I promise, actually, they’re really good). As I munched, I worried, and Brené talked, and I thought about vulnerability and shame and courage and those words I’m so fond of and so very not good at living by.

This year, the year of 22? I have learned that I am braver than I thought I was. I have also learned that being brave is more about being braver – about the growing from one kind of brave to another, far more than it is about the thing itself.

I want to start with being braver than I thought I was. I go on runs sometimes – you probably know this from my blog – and when I run, I talk. I talk to God, I talk to the birds, I talk even a little bit to myself. And the things I say are brave not because they are difficult, but because they are gracious. “I love my body,” I said one summer afternoon. “I have done a good job at work this week,” I said as I rounded the muddy right turn in the path behind the college buildings, the one that leads to my favorite pond. “God, Your goodness is bigger than my idea of it,” was the thought last week as I ran hands up through a cul-de-sac praying for a sign from Him. These things are brave: because they are words of love instead of judgment, words of a recovering good girl who now believes that her job is not to hurl condemnation at her legs or her work ethic or her relationship with God, but instead to say things in love. That’s brave.

Brave looks like wearing bright blue pants on a Friday night, like eating Ben & Jerry’s from the carton, like whispering to your best friend that you do not know if you can believe that you are worthy. Yes, un-vulnerable, brave is in the work of admitting all the places where you ache. This year, my year of 22, I have learned that to be brave is to walk into a room and, for just a moment, believe that all things work together for the good.

And then that oh-s0-much-more-important thing: in this, my 22nd year, I learned that it is not about achieving a level of brave all for its own sake. It’s not about an arbitrary measurement, where you suddenly are brave enough, where you have arrived at a satisfactory level… Oh no. Being brave is for something else: for love, for the truth, for the sake of the bigger, richer life that you must seek. You must not seek it for merely self-actualization: you must seek it because to be alive is a great and grave privilege. But being brave is more about being brave in the direction of the other things you seek. Therefore, it is a movement, a blossoming. One day you manage to say to your abs that you love them. One day you pray and release. One day, in the middle of the day, you watch the Ted Talk again and you say to yourself, I want to live wholeheartedly, too. And that is brave. And that is braver.

Living vulnerably is not a thing to be achieved, my dear friend. It is more a striving to live according to the great privilege it is to be alive, a striving to offer your fullest self because you believe that self is so radiant, so very real, that to offer less is to be less. It is a striving, a blossoming, a becoming.

In this, my 22nd year, I am beginning to strive. I am beginning to hope that I will be braver now than I was three years ago and braver in twenty years than I am in ten years, and all the while, seeking not merely bravery or courage or vulnerability: seeking instead the good, wondrous life.

That’s what I know about being vulnerable, Un-vulnerable: yours is a good and wondrous life. Be brave in its direction.



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