If you are in college or have ever been in college, you understand that there is a difference between learning and simply attending the university. To the naked eye, it may seem that everyone who is attending a university is learning. That’s not true. They are showing up to class, sitting in the seats, hearing words coming out of the professor’s mouth and turning in assignments. They are fulfilling the bare minimum requirements of enrollment, but are they learning? It’s hard to tell. I know I wasn’t. I got mostly A’s and B’s and have 2 college degrees. To the naked eye, I was at a higher learning institution and I was getting ‘smarter.’ But really, I was doing what I had to do to get a grade that would allow me to get a job, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could truly recall more than 25% of what I ‘learned’ in college. The same concept applies with living. Are you living? Or are you just sitting your ass in the seat, zoning out and looking at your watch every 5 minutes until class is over. Then, you can leave to go play video games, watch TV or have meaningless sex with someone you don’t care about. Are you lying to yourself? Are you simply ‘attending’ life? Or are you really living?
If you’re reading this, you’re technically living. You are breathing and you have a heartbeat. But my friends, those are just the bare minimum requirements for sustaining human life. I don’t ever want to say that I am only doing the bare minimum requirements for living. How can I be sure that I am not doing that? The answer is complex, but can be summed up in one concept: Vulnerability.
In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown goes deep into this concept. She is a researcher who has been hot on the trail of happiness for a couple of decades and she firmly believes that ‘whole hearted’ people (as she terms them) have one very obvious thing in common. You guessed it. They are vulnerable. Vulnerability is the most unifying experience in the human race. Fear. Authenticity. Anxiety. Love. It shows up in many places in our lives. Applying for a job, initiating sex, telling someone what is really on your mind, having face to face conversations when texting is so much easier and even something as simple as saying, ‘hello’ to someone on the sidewalk instead of putting your head down and avoiding eye contact.
SO, here’s what we know thanks to Dr. Brown’s research. Happy people put themselves out there. In every way imaginable. Maybe not every day all the time, but definitely at a higher rate than those who are not happy. They are afraid- and they do it anyway. Some of these whole hearted people don’t even realize they are doing it because it comes so naturally. This is not me (although I’m constantly working on it). I am sometimes intensely aware of my fear. I like to acknowledge it. I journal on a regular basis and consistently write down the feelings of fear and vulnerability that I have.
I recently tried skiing for the first time at the age of 29.5 with a person of the opposite sex. Keep in mind that I am the only female working around all men all day. Also keep in mind that I am an ex-college athlete and current aspiring professional athlete. Also keep in mind that I am a strength and conditioning coach and am in a position of authority when working with the players. Being vulnerable in front of men is not only something that I’m not familiar with, it’s something I just flat out do not like. Being physically unable to do something is also not something that I particularly care for. But, there I was. In Flagstaff, at the top of a mountain, doing all of the above. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy or comfortable or even enjoyable at first. But I recognized my fear and did it anyway. This is my ‘journal entry’ for that day:
Here are the fearful thoughts that I can remember having as we walked up to the practice slope:
I’m too old to pick this up.
I’m going to fall down.
I will look un-athletic.
I’m going to run into someone and hurt them.
Someone is going to run into me and hurt me.
I was a catcher, this isn’t good for my knees.
I am going to be vulnerable in front of a man.
He will think I am stupid and weak.
What if I just can’t do it?
What if it takes me longer to learn than other people?
What if I look unattractive?
I’m going to fall off the ski lift.
I can’t do this.
And the positive ones…
This is going to be fun.
I like learning new things.
It feels good to be forced into a vulnerable scenario.
Allowing someone to teach you something strengthens your friendship/relationship.
I am going to smile like a kid an awful lot.
(Note this list is much shorter.)
And here is what actually happened (in chronological order):
I recognized the feeling of intense fear as I stood at the top of a practice slope.
I was standing next to a 6-year-old who proceeded to go down the slope and crush it.
I felt embarrassment.
I felt excitement.
I went down the practice slope wayyy too fast the first time
I wiped out at the bottom to avoid hitting the people who were waiting for the lift.
I felt the fear of being injured as I went down to the ground.
Just as I hit the ground, I thought about my knees.
After I stopped skidding, I took inventory. Nothing. I was fine.
It took me a few minutes to stand back up.
I fell 3 times on my second time down. (While more 6-year-olds flew by.)
I wasn’t as afraid of falling this time.
It still took me several minutes just to stand up once I fell down.
Damn, this is hard.
I want to quit.
I felt my knees and hips in foreign and painful positions.
I was worried about how I looked to my friend when I couldn’t do it on the first try. He had told me that he only fell once his first time and I had quadrupled that on the practice slope (Insert thumbs up emoji here).
I wanted to quit.
I finally learned how to make a (sloppy) turn on my 3rd run.
I got a huge smile on my face at the bottom.
I told my friend it was good to feel vulnerable in front of him.
I recognized that I need to learn a new skill more often and feel the feeling of uncertainty.
I realized that this is the feeling my athletes have.
I relished in knowing that failing at something new was making me a better coach.
I finally went down the practice slope without falling.
I got in line to get on the lift and do it one more time before getting on a real slope.
Before I could even get on the lift, I slid backwards down a 4-foot hill in front of a large line of people.
People were watching me.
Just when you think you’re getting the hang of something…(Insert eye-roll emoji here.)
I side stepped extremely slowly up the small (tiny) hill.
When I was almost at the top, I lost my footing and slid back down again.
People were STILL watching me.
A lot of people.
But probably less people than I thought.
I laughed nervously to cover up my embarrassment.
I realized I was embarrassed and wondered why.
I told myself that I was on a practice slope and that all of these people have probably fallen multiple times in the past 10 minutes.
For the second time, I awkwardly tried to side step up the small hill to the line to get on the lift.
I couldn’t get back up that damn hill.
My friend suggested we just go down to the bunny slope lift (down a small hill right next to us) because it was that bad. I mean, I really couldn’t get up that damn hill to get in line.
I didn’t feel ready. I thought I needed one more practice.
I agreed to go anyway. (Mostly because I couldn’t get back to the lift. Damnit.)
We went to the bunny slope ski lift.
I had a millisecond of panic just before getting on to the lift.
I smiled like a 5 year-old as soon as I got on the lift.
My friend told me that he was still a little scared of getting on the lifts.
It made me feel better to hear him be vulnerable.
I really admired the scenery for the first time in the day.
I felt an intense fear as I stood at the top of a bunny slope.
I felt excited.
I went really slowly down the hill making all of my sloppy turns without falling.
I felt bored.
But I didn’t fall…
But I was bored.
I recognized that I was bored because I played it safe and went too slow.
I decided to go faster next time.
I got in line to go back on the lift, almost lost my balance and fell over while standing there doing absolutely nothing.
I was just standing there. How did I manage to fall?
I have no freaking clue.
My skis awkwardly hit another girl’s skis.
I felt embarrassed.
I struggled to regain my balance.
People were watching me look like a complete idiot.
I laughed at myself.
I got back on the ski lift again. This time it felt fun and I really enjoyed the scenery.
I went a little faster down the slope.
It felt easy.
My friend suggested going to the green slope, the next level up.
I didn’t feel ready.
I wanted one more practice on this slope.
I said yes and we went anyway.
I fell while trying to get on the lift.
The person running the lift had to stop the ENTIRE lift that stretched up the mountain.
People were staring at me.
I thought about the people that were in the lift and the fact that they were probably annoyed that it stopped.
I laughed nervously.
I stood up, he started the lift again and I got on the lift.
I felt an intense fear as I stood at the top of the green slope.
My friend went ahead of me.
I started down the slope extremely tentatively.
I fell after like 3 seconds.
I mean, I went down HARD.
It was ugly, I did not look graceful.
I felt my knee go into a very uncomfortable position.
I had a momentary vision of what my life would look like for the next year if I tore my ACL today.
I’m trying to train for volleyball. I lift weights. I have visible abs.
Those things would be gone.
I didn’t tear my ACL. I was fine. Just stranded.
My boot came unclipped from the ski when I fell.
I realized that I was stranded pretty much at the top of the mountain and I didn’t know how to put my boot back on to the ski.
I stood there for approximately 10 minutes trying to get the boot back in.
Minute 1: I wasn’t that frustrated. I was pretty confident that I would figure it out.
Minute 3: I wondered why this wasn’t working. It seemed really simple.
Minute 4: I have 2 college degrees. Why in the hell is this so hard.
Minute 5: I started to get really frustrated.
Minute 6: I yelled “fuck” about 1 million times.
There were young children around.
Minute 7: I had started to tear up a little bit out of frustration.
I hoped no one would see that I had tears in my eyes as they flew by me.
I realized that no one was going to stop to help me.
No one who was passing by me knew how long I had been standing there.
They probably figured that I would be fine. Everyone on a green slope knows how to put their damn boot in the ski.
I realized that I didn’t have all the information to be able to put my boot back in the ski.
I flagged down a woman and asked her to help me.
I felt embarrassed.
People were watching her and I try to figure this out.
I apologized profusely for making her stop her run.
She repeatedly told me not to worry about it.
She showed me what I was missing. The ski wasn’t in the right position.
I realized that if I hadn’t stopped her to ask for help, I literally would have never got the boot back in the ski because it wasn’t in the right position.
I realized how silly it was that I didn’t ask for help sooner.
I continued down the hill.
I felt even more fear because of what had just happened.
I thought about my friend at the bottom of the hill and felt embarrassed.
I wondered what he was thinking about me.
He probably thought I was dead.
I was NOT having fun.
I was pissed.
I wanted to quit.
I fell again.
I fell RIGHT under the ski lift.
Everyone on the ski lift was watching me on the struggle bus as I tried to stand up and failed repeatedly.
Some guy on the ski lift shouted down at me to try to help guide me to stand up.
I was embarrassed that a stranger had to help me, but SO glad that he did.
I realized there was only one way off the mountain.
I realized that no one was going to carry me off the mountain.
It was on me.
Figure it out.
I kept going down the hill and fell 3 more times.
I wanted to quit.
This time, I knew how to stand up so it wasn’t as big of deal.
I was still going really slowly and was very cautious.
My legs were aching.
I had completely lost track of how long it took me to get down the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, I saw my friend waiting there.
I got a really sheepish grin on my face as I got closer.
He told me he was worried about me.
It took me 15 minutes to get down the hill (It should take 60s).
I felt embarrassed.
My friend asked me if I was okay to go again.
I said yes.
I could’ve said no.
I wanted to say no.
I felt a need to redeem myself.
I felt like I was right on the edge of getting the hang of this.
I couldn’t leave right then. There are no mountains in Florida where I live.
Back to the lift.
I reviewed the events of my last run in my head as we waited in line for the lift.
This time I got on the lift no problem. (FINALLY.)
I really enjoyed the scenery on the lift this time. It was breathtaking as we got higher.
I felt the same type of fear and excitement that I did the first time on this hill, except this time I was asking, “What if I come unclipped again?”
Then I realized that if that happened again, I now knew how to put my boot back in.
My fear subsided a little bit.
My friend made me go first this time so he could make sure I didn’t die.
I felt vulnerable because I needed his help.
I resisted the urge to say “That’s okay, go ahead, I got this.”
I said thank you and was actually glad that he was going to watch me.
I acknowledged a small bit of enjoyment of the feeling of someone watching over me – even if it was a man.
I took off down the hill.
This time I only fell once. And I knew how to get back up.
I felt bored half way down the hill.
I stopped on the side of the mountain to take a breather.
Then, I started to go downhill and allowed myself to pick up some speed.
I smiled like a 5-year-old.
My thighs were on FIRE.
I could feel an old groin injury flaring up a little bit.
I made it the rest of the way down the hill without falling.
My friend asked if I wanted to go again.
I said yes.
I made it on the lift and down the hill without falling on my face.
I picked up some speed towards the bottom and got pretty comfortable with making turns.
I felt as if I might fall a few times but regained my balance.
I got to the bottom and felt confident for the first time all day.
I marveled at how much I would have missed out on if I had quit any of the times that I wanted to.
My friend asked if I wanted to leave and I said yes.
I was ready to go.
Not out of fear and wanting to escape.
Out of contentment – knowing that I had learned MANY things beyond skiing.
Playing it safe makes you bored – whether you know it or not.
People will ALWAYS be watching when you fail. Laugh at yourself. Trust me, all of the people watching you fail have also failed.
Fear and excitement are two emotions that are closely related and a lot of times we mix them up.
Being too cautious can be dangerous. In some sports, like skiing and surfing, it can get you killed. It’s counterintuitive to paddle towards a big wave, but if you wait in a certain spot too long, it will crush you.
Ask for help – sooner than you want to. But not too soon. It’s okay to feel that fear for a minute and try to figure it out yourself.
Wanting to quit is normal. If you don’t want to quit, you should question how much you are truly pushing yourself. If you don’t want to quit at least once in whatever journey you are on, then you’re not close enough to the edge. Period.
Everything you do in life doesn’t have to be ‘fun.’ Embrace the suck. Fun comes later. Training isn’t fun, but winning a championship is fucking awesome.
Once you learn how to do something, fear dissipates. Fear can often be lack of understanding. But it takes an effort to learn something to start the process of dissipating the fear. Every time I fell, I was less afraid of falling.
Vulnerability breeds vulnerability. Telling someone you are afraid or in pain may bring you closer together. Chances are, they have had a similar experience of fear and are more likely to share it with you if you are open with them. Don’t be afraid to be the first person to take the leap.
I just listed out 189 thoughts and emotions and barely mentioned anyone else failing. But people were constantly failing all around me. Why didn’t I mention those thoughts? Why didn’t I take notice of those things? It’s because we don’t realize that vulnerability and failure are two of the most common things and also two of the most avoided things in the human race. Even I, the author of this blog, still managed to almost completely ignore it. I was cognizant of other people failing, but I couldn’t feel their emotions. I didn’t know that they were thinking the same things that I was. I just saw their bodies. Not their thoughts. But the truth of the matter is that everyone is afraid of something. As soon as we acknowledge what that is for us and embrace it, we will overcome it.
The number of fearful thoughts outweighed the positive thoughts by a large number right from the get go. But the weight of the positive thoughts is what got me on the mountain and eventually, down the mountain.
I have embraced the idea that vulnerability is a good thing. No matter what happens. Even death. I would rather die knowing that I was truly alive than continue on living via the bare minimum requirements.
Be Alive, Not Just Breathing.
Young Professionals - Check out my new Instagram and website dedicated to helping up and comers with resume, cover letter, job hunting and more.