Vulnerability and Keeping It Real
This week I facilitated a workshop at one of the military bases. It was a small class of 18, mostly military retirees.
Anyone who teaches, trains, speaks, or performs to an audience knows that adapting to an audience is key to making it an effective experience for all. I have learned that by being authentic and sharing the information needed using my (sometimes) gritty, direct approach to life and what it dishes out has worked well in the environment in which I teach. Perhaps, it is due to knowing that I must drape that grit in compassion and connection.
This week’s class was one of my toughest classes ever. Not from a perspective of “bad,” but because it was one of the most emotionally-connected. For three days, I was drained AND fortified. At times when I thought I could not give any more, they gave back in ways that I never would have imagined.
I share my stories of struggle, connection, and triumphs openly. I also encourage, coach, and (sometimes) push others to do the same. I believe this is key to getting through whatever struggles we face, whether it is fear about not finding a job, or dealing with some of the crap life unfairly seems to dish out.
This particular group responded in ways that changed the character of the class. Yes, I still taught career transition material, but the approach to the curriculum was far deeper with these folks than I have ever experienced before. Nearly half shared personal information with me that connected us on a level I have never felt to this degree in any classroom.
- Four have cancer; others have other chronic medical issues
- One is grieving the loss of a young son to cancer two weeks ago
- One lost a father to pancreatic cancer; he is also a single, custodial parent to young children while serving in a deployed military
- One spent a career teaching survival and rescue training, as well as having to go into situations himself to witness the very atrocities that war wages on humankind. Yet, he still has heart and soul, and opens up to others to make real connection.
- Others live with the fear of failure in the next step of their journey, having lost confidence due to lack of support from their so-called leaders. Some mask that fear with bravado.
What strikes a strong chord with me, as I reflect upon the last few days, is that this group opened up so transparently in such a short amount of time, not only with me, but with one another. Perhaps, it was one of the first times, some of them had ever uttered the words, their fears, told their stories out loud, or shared tears (yes, I cried with several people during some one-on-one moments) with a total stranger.
This changed me and how I delivered the messages that needed to be shared. I was able to get to the very grit of what being human really means, and how we humans need to be okay in our own skin, whatever that means to us individually.
It is in telling our stories that we realize we are not alone. And I, too, must remember that I must do the same, as I hold back and do not always show my most vulnerable, scared side of Coral.
I came across writer Ashley Boynes-Shuck whose personal blog is one I am enjoying tremendously. I found her through an article shared by the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation. The article, “What I Wish People Knew About My Chronic Illness,” is one of the best articles I have ever read.
Though Ashley’s struggle is not the same as mine, she shares the same sentiments that I have shared with many one-on-one in private conversations, with small groups in facilitative workshops, on-stage as a speaker in larger groups, and in several articles, blogposts, diary entries, etc. that I have left online for others to stumble across. Yet, I have not been as courageous as Ashley, because I pick and choose what I think someone will want to hear, or I have concerned myself with what others will think of me as I lay it all out on the line. And lay it all out there is something Ashley does in her article.
Some of the points that resonated most with me–
“What I wish people knew about chronic illness is:
- …it can be unpredictable.
- …one day I may be fine, the next day, or next hour, I may not be.
- …I may not look sick. I may look healthy and “normal.”
- …I (don’t) discuss my health issues for pity, sympathy, or attention….(but) to help others who are dealing with the same hurdles. To inform. To educate. To be matter-of-fact. To explain. Not to get pitied, babied, or fawned over. Certainly not to be looked down upon or judged.
- …with complex illnesses come complex symptoms and complications…an ever-changing journey.
- One thing that is consistent and predictable…I will not rest on my laurels and watch life pass me by. I will do what I can on days I am well…strive to do so with determination and with a smile…try to stay hopeful and positive, even when I have a “down” day… I am human. We all have problems. We all hurt. We are all entitled to get frustrated now and then.
- …when I am having a down or frustrated day, that I am not giving up. I’m simply expressing my feelings, and I’ll be back on the proverbial horse again soon.
- …(chronic illness) it isn’t easy to deal with — but it also doesn’t have to rob those of us who DO deal with it, of an awesome life. Every day, I am grateful for the many good things I have in my life. In every bad day there is good, even if we must strain ourselves to find it.
- …being sick and facing struggles and complications along the way hasn’t changed who I am for the worse — it’s probably changed me for the better. It hasn’t diminished my, or anyone’s, value as a human being.
- …chronic illness sucks…but it doesn’t have to suck the life out of…any of us…I’ve persevered…and when it comes to chronic illness… I will ALWAYS continue to persevere…and you can, too.
- What I want you all to know, no matter what you’re dealing with, is that you’re not alone.”
Telling our stories, sharing our fears and truly being vulnerable is not easy for anyone. It takes some of us longer to trust ourselves and others so that we feel safe enough to do so.
Some of us do it through writing, art, dance and movement, and others through talking, sharing, mentoring and other engagement with humans. We must learn to share our pain and fear.
And as exhausting as it may be, the joy and love that will come back to you is like nothing you will ever experience.
So to the new-found friends I made this week, I thank you for trusting me with your stories, and for sharing your heart, love and appreciation.
And to Ashley Boynes-Shuck, thank you for the reminder to always keep it “real.”
“Courage. Honesty. Acceptance. Loyalty. Forthrightness.
A sense of humor…about life and themselves.
These are the qualities in my friends and acquaintances that I value the most.”
Copyright © 2013 Coral Levang