This past Mother’s Day, my beloved gave me a compliment. In my card, he wrote that he admired my way of staring life straight in the eye. I started to cry. Because I loved that he loved that about  me.

With that card, he gifted me with some language to describe some of my favorite ways of being in the world – open, courageous, vulnerable, committed. And while it kindled a sense of pride, it also had me take stock of my life – doing a quick scan for other areas in my life where I wasn’t staring my life in the eye.

And sure enough, I found a few places where not only was I not staring, I was actively closing me eyes. Hard. You’ll read about one of those places next week.

But this whole notion of looking life in the eye had me thinking because it felt inextricably linked to my most recent fascination with the topic of vulnerability.

So I took it for a run.

I happened to be listening to a playlist one of my clients made for himself – and graciously shared – when he was coaching with me a while back. I listened to Ben Harper sing,

Fools will be fools
And wise will be wise
But I will look this world straight in the eye
Because I believe in a better way

That did it for me. Ben totally delivered the goods. I finally got why it was so important for me to stare life in the eyes.

I believe in a better way.

Fast forward a week and I’m having a conversation with a friend about the topic of vulnerability. She’s relaying a rather animated discussion she had with another woman about what vulnerability is, exactly. This other woman was calling it a competency. My friend was calling it a capacity, suggesting that people are “okay with vulnerability” only to a certain extent – if it’s not to messy or hard to be with.

I talked about how I see vulnerability as a strength, echoing what Brene Brown says in her most recent TED talk about how our problem as a society is that we view it as a weakness.

She balked at that, “I’m having a hard time with you calling vulnerability a strength.”

So I took it for another run. With Ben.

As a result, I’ve got an entirely new way of looking at vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a value.

It’s a way of being in the world. It’s an action predicated on being open. It has nothing to do with determination, strength or even fortitude, as I originally thought. But it has everything to do with courage and curiosity.

It makes sense to me now, what my friend was pointing to: sometimes we choose to be vulnerable and that makes us feel strong; and sometimes we find ourselves vulnerable and that makes us feel weak. And it’s all good, whether it’s grace-filled and engaging, or snotty-nosed and repulsive.

I’ve come to appreciate that at its core, vulnerability isn’t about how we respond to it – whether we rise to it or run from it – but it’s about being permeable to it, allowing ourselves to be a vessel in which it can rest a spell.

So while vulnerability can be a strong place to BE, it isn’t necessarily a strength. Or a weakness. 

I’m thinking it just might be the key to our vitality.

So now that I’ve got that all sorted out in my head. I think I’ll go for another run. And continue to stare life in the eyes.

But maybe this time I’ll listen to the Go-Go’s.