“Experiencing vulnerability isn’t a choice – the only choice we have is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” –Brene Brown
In straight words, it’s real.
It is imperfect.
Vulnerability is life unedited. It is the courage to be who we really are. And, well, that’s a hard thing to do.
It may seem naturally easy as we read and digest those words, “be who we really are.” I mean, who else would we be?! I’ve been learning, however, that many of us have been hiding the very essence of what makes us, us. We even go so far as to conceal who we truly are from our own selves.
Within this past year I have jumped head first into the creation of a documentary called, Imperfect. A piece based around the idea of removing the negative stigma associated with the word imperfect through authenticity and shared experience.
I interviewed a handful of willing people about their experience with imperfection – first memories and where it has taken them since. I asked them direct questions about themselves – where they were right at that moment and if they love what they know and believe themselves to be. Needless to say, it was beautiful and enlightening.
I have been challenging my own perfectionism in the process. I decided that part of the documentary would be to hold true to its greater meaning through and through. I had to let go of things I normally would do like making a room look more “aesthetically pleasing” for a shot or correcting or discarding any technical malfunctions on the back end. I allowed everything to remain the way it truly was. I can tell you, as a recovering perfectionist, this was a difficult, but highly interesting task to undertake.
I am in the midst of this creation as we speak and along the way have learned a few things that I think are worth sharing:
1. Fighting Against the Desire For Perfectionism is Difficult.
A project like this really forces a person to face vulnerability head on and continually. The constant choice of how to handle each raw moment as it arises is not always easy. In fact, it can be incredibly difficult.
We don’t want to be wrong. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable. We want to have it all together and ideally, life would flow flawlessly. However, when confronting perfectionist tendencies instead of giving into them, it is possible to discover that we were wrong and we don’t know all the answers. Subsequently, we may find ourselves discouraged and uncomfortable.
Personally, I’m learning the balance for myself, day by day. I’m openly making mistakes and, most of the time, it’s pretty hard to accept. To be fair, I think this is why most of us choose not to enter into the realm of admitting imperfections. Often times we choose to ignore vulnerability when its great force enters our lives. It can be a very hard thing to acknowledge.
What I'm starting to see, through participants of the documentary and through my own experience, is the reality of this process; and that it is exactly that - a process. If we allow ourselves the space to be imperfect together, we feel less alone, less discouraged, and more hopeful.
We have a tendency in life to want to figure it out on our own – to be the ones who don’t raise our hand in public. We silently search for answers to be equipped for everyone else when they struggle. I think we believe this is the way to create confidence, but in reality it tends to foster more fear and incredible amounts of self-imposed pressure.
Conversely, the power of shared experience is astounding. None of us have all the answers, but we each carry wisdom from our individual explorations. We may never come to know whom we have touched, inspired, encouraged, or ignited with our personal truth. While vulnerability and challenging perfectionism may not feel good in all moments, it is always, always healing. And when we get to embark on this journey together – well, it’s a lot less scary.
2. Vulnerability Has An Aftershock
I won’t sugar coat it for you; vulnerability is not always encouraging.
We’ve trained ourselves to hide things, conceal ourselves, for so long, there may be an aftershock for a bit of time as we begin to get real and challenge our old ways.
You may find yourself embracing your imperfections – allowing vulnerability in the company of others – others you are close to and care about. Then you come home and suddenly you find yourself lowering to the floor, flat-backed, limbs sprawled, feeling overly exposed and possibly confused.
It takes merely a moment to be vulnerable, but there remains an incalculable amount of time to sit with and work through it all in your mind.
The honest truth is that we don’t know when it will hit us. It doesn’t come with fair warning. That being said, if you are aware of it, you are prepared for it. It may try to knock you down a time or two – heck, it may even get you to the ground. But when you realize you are unlearning behavior and you are powering through to a life of freedom, these aftershocks become slightly more endurable.
I am there currently – flat-backed, on the floor, staring at the ceiling and wondering when this gets easier. Does it get easier?
I’ve come to this…
3. Life Doesn’t Necessarily Get Easier, but It Gets Brighter
For me personally, thus far in the journey, embracing imperfection and being vulnerable hasn’t gotten any easier to do per se; however, I’ve definitely seen, and obviously so, how the rewards greatly exceed the fear of the initial risk and slight aftershock.
The fear remains for a bit – I’m honestly not sure for how long. It may be different for us all, because it is a highly individualized process. We are unraveling learned behavior that was likely put in place in some way to protect ourselves from hurt of some kind. It takes time – time and continued effort.
While I may not be experiencing this part of the process with wholehearted ease just yet, I thank those who have come before me. Those who were brave enough to give this personal progression the time and effort it needed. They have exposed the other side of this tough, beginning season and I am extremely grateful to them for their willingness and courage.
In those dark moments, I have found that the power of shared experience pushes me through, time and time again...
I keep speaking on the power of shared experience, because man if it isn’t the most motivating and inspiring thing I’ve come across in this entire process. Through each step of this exploration I have been able to see, first hand, what sharing our stories honestly can do for those it ends up reaching.
In the documentary itself, nothing showcased this to me more than the interviews I had the privilege to hold. It was a one-on-one conversation. No participant knew the questions until the moment they were asked them. Each reaction was in the moment and the honesty was palpable. Their willingness to openness invited a two-way conversation – a conversation that was real.
That’s the thing about vulnerability; you never know what sharing your genuine heart will bring to another person’s life. You never know what catalyst you might be able to be for them. Maybe you’ll see the effect, maybe not. The fact is, the opportunity is only there by being your true self to all people around you.
After coming face-to-face with those who are embracing their imperfections, I would be hard-pressed to believe that anyone would not to be inspired by the way they choose to live daily.
There is something about the openness of others that gives us the breathing room to test the waters ourselves. It’s as if we needed to see someone else fly a great distance and land safely to step on a plane ourselves. We’ll all deal with patches of turbulence in our journeys at different times and in different ways than those we’ve observed. Patches that may make us go back and question our decision to jump on in the first place. Ultimately, we land on solid ground and discover, in our own life, that it was worth it to get to where we are – and it will be worth it again and again.
5. Embracing Imperfection is Freedom
One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned in creating this documentary and greater movement is the true freedom that comes with embracing our individual imperfect lives.
I know, for me, it just clicked one day and there was no going back. It was weird, I was still the same person, but without all of the weight I was inadvertently carrying around. I had been so fearful of what others thought, or of messing up, or of letting someone down. It created a heavy life for me. I started to see that I was essentially trying to control what each person thought about me by consistently worrying and never sharing much about myself.
After walking through this project and inevitably continuing to challenge myself in the process, it feels laughable really in retrospect -- the prison I internally kept myself in for so long. I think I just needed to come to the realization that I lived life that way. I wasn’t even letting my own self see who I really was at the time – good, bad or indifferent. Once I invested time in doing that, getting to know myself, it became easier to want others to see me too. I started to see where I wanted to go and just slowly but surely allowed for things to happen by putting myself out there and not giving up. Mostly, I just continued to push past fear and actually let people in.
This, all of this, is a choice I continue to make each and every day. Yes, it can be difficult, but I can say, with clearer eyes, that it is WELL worth the lifted weight I had been carrying – and sometimes, unfortunately, still do carry – around unnecessarily.
There is a balance that we can learn if we allow ourselves to – if we can fight the fatigue and the discouraging moments. A balance that we can grow in if we can be vulnerable enough to share our weaknesses as well as our strengths. To allow what we’ve learned to extend beyond ourselves. Life doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it to be. I believe we discover this more and more through each instance of vulnerability we choose to partake in.
Imperfections are not mistakes. They are cries for authenticity inside of you. Lean into that – knowing full well it won’t be an easy ride. But, I can promise you this; it will be infinitely more meaningful, less stressful and limitless inspiring.