Vulnerability Exposed

I have blogged on vulnerability before, but never before have I experienced such a spontaneous "a-ha" moment as I did yesterday with the First Year Leadership Class at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Following a viewing of the video of Brene Brown discussing 'Vulnerability,' the class was discussing some of the things that stood out to them. We covered a number of topics, including shame, fear of the unknown, and whether there was a difference between vulnerability and controlling your emotions. As I pondered how to best approach the topic, an intriguing idea came to me. It all started when I stepped onto one of the tables in the Whitley classroom and began the explanation...

Take The Leap
At this point, I would like to reveal that one of my favorite and most publicly unknown hobbies is that I enjoy cliffdiving. I didn't say "cliffjumping"... I meant cliffdiving. Pay special attention to the difference: I am crazy enough to dive head first into waters that may be 30-50 feet below the launching point. Whilst you wonder what would drive a person to do something like this, I want to explain to you why I believe it is a wonderful analogy for the concept of vulnerability.
Whenever you take a group out to cliffdive, you see much of the same human behavior: outside of a few individuals who just "go for it," most people hesitate for quite a while at the edge of the cliff. Whether it is the realization that there is significant danger involved or they just have never done anything involving as much adrenaline or courage, hesitation is usually a natural reaction. In fact, I have seen people hesitate at the edge for upwards of 15 minutes as they consider taking the leap. No matter how much others try to help with really slow countdowns from 10 to "jump," it takes quite a bit of courage to push yourself over the edge. But eventually, most people go for it.

Fact: I have seen people get hurt! I am not talking about anything similar to a Kevin Ware-type injury, but that slight hesitation before they take the running leap can cause either a number of scrapes along the way as they slide across the rockface or hitting the water at an angle that is not preferable (i.e. a bellysmacker). Plus, there is a chance that a bad experience can have a lasting impact on a person (although this is not very frequent). 

Fact: Most people who go out to cliffdive, (when they gather enough courage to jump) have a great time! Even if they just do a normal pencil dive, the adrenaline rush that they get when they hit the water safely is unbelievable. There are tons of smiles, laughs, and memories made each and every time they head to the lake/river/pond/ocean. Photos are taken and detailed videos encapsulate the moment perfectly.

What's the point? The simple activity of cliffdiving/cliffjumping exemplifies the notion of vulnerability very clearly. As you stand on the edge of the cliff, you have two options:
  1. Choose not to jump. Play it safe and avoid all of the positives/negatives that can come from the experience. In your eyes, the risks may outweigh the benefits. Or...
  2. You can collect yourself... your emotions... reach from within and capture the essence of courage to take the leap! If you trust the people around you to care for you if something goes wrong, it should provide a significant level of personal comfort. You recognize that being vulnerable can create deep, meaningful connections with others and those experiences may define you in a very good way. In the end, you may stumble but you are strengthened by the fact that you put yourself out there and gave it a shot.
So... What are you waiting for?

Student Affairs - the First Years

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