Twenty-three years ago, when my baby died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome I thought my world would crash down around me. How do you survive the death of your baby? Somehow I did. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And that was certainly everyone’s opinion of me -that I must be incredibly strong and that they could never survive such a tragedy. People never realize what they can survive when there’s no other choice.
Since then I’ve experienced many more hardships – my other son is Intellectually Disabled and my second husband was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis four weeks after we were married and is now confined to a powerchair. I was financially ruined from my first marriage and now I’m the only source of income for my family of six including my mother who lives with us. People hear my story and they look at me in wonder or pity or awe.
Despite all of this I’ve built a life of abundance and joy. I am resilient.
I’m certainly not alone. There are so many stories of life-altering tragedy and how people have overcome incredible loss and come out the other side stronger.
Yes, humans are remarkably resilient. No doubt resilience is what’s needed to survive in a world that’s becoming increasingly unpredictable. Resilience is needed in your career and your relationships. Yet there’s a trade-off when we’re super resilient and that’s the loss of vulnerability. Who among us hasn’t been burned in a relationship and reluctant to let our guard down with the next person we meet? Don’t get me wrong, honing our BS meter with people is important in order to avoid getting screwed over but that’s different than never allowing someone to get close to you for fear of being hurt again.
While I’m happily remarried, it took me a while to become vulnerable and really open up to my husband. When I had done that in the past my feelings and dreams were trampled on and my insecurities were used as weapons against me. I realized, however, that if I had any hope of having a successful and authentic relationship I needed to take the risk.
As a caregiver for my husband, son and mother and parenting my daughters I have a bunch of people who rely on me. There are times when I feel I just need to keep my head down and move forward. I’m in charge of keeping all the balls in the air and if I take my eye off one of them the entire system I’ve created will come crashing down. Caregivers are beyond resilient which doesn’t allow much room for vulnerability. We don’t have time to explore our feelings nor do we feel we have the right to complain or admit our fears. This leads, however, to becoming resentful of our role. Being able to share feelings in a safe place with either a friend, therapist or support group is so important for maintaining your own emotional well-being.
Resilience and vulnerability in your career are equally tricky especially for women entrepreneurs. When we are tough at negotiating with a vendor or client we’re perceived as a bitch. If we discuss the challenges we have raising kids, caring for our aging parents while working a demanding job we’re dismissed as not being strong enough. But intuitively we know that for a business to succeed we must connect with our clients in authentic ways.
We need to show up as a human being, with our faults and vulnerabilities.
Finding the balance between vulnerability and resiliency isn’t easy. I know for certain that when my son died a piece of my heart died with him. Since then I hardly cry when another friend or relative dies. When my favorite uncle, even my dad died I hardly shed a tear. It’s certainly not that I didn’t love them but it’s as if my soul knew it needed to become super resilient to withstand another tragedy as great as the death of my baby. My threshold for tolerating grief is quite high.
Vulnerability is a luxury that some are not allowed. People who are in abusive relationships or a hostile work environment can never show their weak spots. Being vulnerable requires a level of trust that some have come to believe shouldn’t be granted to anyone. That’s not cynical it’s self-preservation.
Vulnerability requires courage. It’s much easier to be resilient and avoid authentic and meaningful relationships. Resilience doesn’t require you to feel. Being vulnerable means you’re taking a risk on yourself and others.
Have you learned to be vulnerable and was it successful? Share here and help someone else who might be struggling.
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