A colleague of mine recently asked me for some help. He was wondering how best to handle a difficult situation at work. As he reached out, he half-apologized, wondering whether he might be unfairly imposing on my time. It didn’t feel like it was an imposition at all, quite the opposite. He’s such a good guy and so respectful that it’s always a pleasure to share my opinion with him and offer my advice. As he asked, I noticed something: his reaching out made me feel good even before we conversed about his work. I wondered why that was the case. After thinking about it, I figured it out. He was showing me his vulnerability.
Leaning into discomfort
His words didn’t make me think something; his words made me feel something. This expression of human vulnerability allowed for a connection between us, a moment of closeness. I know that it likely wasn’t so easy for him to ask but here’s the thing: it’s always uncomfortable to show our truest vulnerable selves. We have a saying in psychiatry that we grow only when we lean into discomfort. I believe this is true. By definition, growth is a journey where we enter an unknown world, whether we are stumbling to learn a new language or falling off our bike as a kid. Leaning into the discomfort of showing another our tender core is as challenging as it is rewarding.
Ironically, it is only through embracing this discomfort that we can find comfort. We can’t have it both ways. We either live behind thick walls, protecting ourselves, feeling alone, or we open up to the joy and pain in life by feeling uneasily vulnerable. When we say “I love you” first, when we stand at an AA meeting and say “I am an alcoholic” or when we say “I need your help”, we are extending our hands and opening our hearts. We humans are hard-wired to connect and being openly vulnerable is the only pathway to true intimacy and well being.
I’m going to do my very best to help my colleague. I’m quite sure he is unaware that he has moved me. I respect him for doing so. And perhaps in return, I will navigate through my own vulnerability, open myself up and let him know how grateful I am for this gift that he has bestowed upon me.