Vulnerability has been a buzzword ever since Brene Brown’s TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.
They say vulnerability is the key to romantic relationships, friendships, leadership, all the ships.
And for a long time, I believed them.
So I worked hard on learning to be vulnerable. In my relationships, in my friendships, in my business…ship. I was vulnerable so often that I felt like I’d kind of mastered the
I didn’t need to be vulnerable anymore.
And once I made this decision, if anyone told me to be vulnerable I would indignantly (but quietly), refuse. Don’t tell me how to be! These other people might not know themselves, but I, Alex Portera, know who I am!
Looking back on it makes me laugh.
I was so naive.
What shook me out of this mindset, and taught me how much more I have to learn, was our Out In My Mind challenge by Dan Doty of Evryman.
Enter Our Week 1 Challenger
Evryman is a men’s organization focused on improving the lives of men by encouraging them to be vulnerable and connect with other men.
Some people may balk at an organization like this, but one conversation with one of its founders, Dan Doty, and it’s hard not to be curious.
Dan is not the type of person you expect to encourage men to be vulnerable and share their feelings. He grew up in Montana, played in a heavy metal band, was a wilderness guide out in the Rockies, and produced a Netflix hunting show called Meat Eater.
And yet, this is what he does, and the power of his work blew me away.
Dan’s challenge to us for Out In My Mind was to do a “check-in” 5 times a day for a week. A check-in has 3 steps.
- Take a deep breathe and notice the physical sensations in your body (e.g., my forehead is hot, my legs are tingling, my arms are sore)
- Now switch your attention to your emotions and notice what you’re feeling (e.g., I’m feeling stressed because of my work, I’m sad because of something that happened with my family, I’m excited because I’ve got a fun date tonight).
- Share those feelings with someone, and if you’re open to it, have a conversation.
Dan modeled what this looks like, we tried it out, and we went off on our merry way.
Putting The Evryman Challenge Into Action
For the next week, through the good, the bad, and the mundane, we did our check-ins. The benefits of this practice unfolded in all sorts of directions we never could have predicted.
Lesson 1: Take Action
The challenge came during a time when I was in the process of looking for an apartment with my girlfriend during the week, and our relationship was being strained in a unique way. We weren’t communicating well, and I felt like I wasn’t totally in control of my emotions. If I’m being really honest, I felt like shitty boyfriend.
But 5 times a day, I had to do these check-ins. Which meant 5 times a day, I had to acknowledge how shitty I was being. And in doing so, I had the reflective space and opportunity to decide if I wanted to do anything about it. I did every time.
The check-ins forced me to deal with my issues on the spot instead of letting them linger and fester.
But the check-ins were valuable for other reasons.
Lesson 2: Notice Your Trends
For one, I was able to get a pulse check on how I’m feeling at different times of the day and in different situations. I got to see what things made me happy, joyous, or at peace, and at what times did I feel stressed, anxious, or upset. This helps me optimize my activities, increasing the number of things I do that make me feel 1, decreasing the number of things that make me feel the latter (although it’s still important to #seekdiscomfort).
Lesson 3: End The Self-Sabotage
But even more importantly, and most shockingly, these check-ins produced some deep revelations about myself. While working on this video, I learned that I’ve had a lifelong tendency to self-sabotage. I actively, but subconsciously, do things to make my chances of success less likely.
Where does this come from?
Turns out my ego is more fragile than I like to admit. As a result, I fill myself with false bravado when taking on a new challenge, while also taking actions that will hurt my chances of succeeding in that challenge. In doing so, if I end up failing I have plenty of reasons why that don’t bruise my ego.
I have excuses.
It’s because we didn’t have X, or we didn’t have time for Y, or Z wasn’t available.
The significance of this tendency of mine, combined with the length of time it’s been going on without me realizing it blew my mind.
I’m constantly self-sabotaging. And when I realized this, I began to, for the first time, take steps to take control of myself. To take responsibility for my actions in a new way. To try my best.
Moving on with life
Sure these insights are cool, but insight without integration is just intellectual masturbation (you can quote me on that one).
So what have I gained from this experience?
Well, the realization about the self-sabotage hasn’t cured my self-sabotage. This will take time to unlearn.
But what it has helped me realize is that the fear of my ego taking a beating is not a fear I will accept in my life any longer. I’d rather try my best and fail than give it 50% and succeed at 50%. If I try and fail, I can be proud. If I pretend to try and fail, I can never be.
This is pretty big and is pushing me to continue developing my skills and working on new things, this blog is one of them.
I’ve also lost (some) of my hubris that I know myself well enough that I don’t need to engage in vulnerability exercises anymore. I have acknowledged that I will never know myself well enough that I won’t need to be vulnerable. Our psyches are unbounded. There are always more depths to explore, and they are always evolving in form. You can never traverse the same internal path twice.
And last but not least, if I’m feeling lost, I know I can always take a deep breath and check-in with myself to find my way again.
In April of 2020 I’ll be attending an Evryman weekend retreat. I’ll let you know how it goes!