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The Shackles of Insecurity and the Freedom of Vulnerability

“Bob” is a guy I worked with years ago. At one point, the company went through a major reorganization and Bob, along with many others, was let go. Bob was one of the most conscientious employees I knew. He was smart, creative, and he truly cared about his performance, work product, and his reputation. He was devastated when he lost his job. He was 60-something at the time… too young to retire, and, in his opinion, too old to start over. The economy tanked, jobs were scarce, and Bob was scared. He hasn't worked since.

He and I still stay in touch and chat from time to time. I’ll ask him what he’s been up to, and the answer is always the same, “Still shuffling along.” He might share a good book that he’s read or an update on a mutual friend, but other than that he just “shuffles along.” The last time we spoke, he was more despondent than ever. We reminisced a bit about the old times, and he finally he said, “You know, when that chapter ended, I felt so scared and vulnerable. I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel much anymore.”

After the call, I couldn't get his words out of my head. I wanted to call him back and tell him, “Stop letting your insecurities define you! Get out there, and do something!” I was angry at him, but mostly I was sad.

Was he out of hope or out of courage? And what was it that kept him locked in that mental box all these years? He was paralyzed by his insecurities, and the worst part was that he resigned himself to live in that box.

“…scared and vulnerable…”

People tend to use the words vulnerable and insecure interchangeably. But there is an important distinction. The etymology of the word vulnerable is interesting. The word originated from the Latin noun vulnus ("wound") which led to the Latin verb vulnerare ("to wound,") and then to the late Latin adjective vulnerabilis, which became "vulnerable" in English in the early 1600s. Originally, the word meant "capable of being physically wounded" or "susceptibility to attack or injury." Today, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the simple definition of the word vulnerable is:

  • easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally

  • open to attack, harm, or damage

Now, consider the simple definition of insecure:

  • not confident about yourself or your ability to do things well

  • nervous and uncomfortable

  • not locked or well protected

Insecurity implies weakness, uncertainty and the need for protection. What I’ve learned about vulnerability is that it is grounded in uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. All of that takes both courage and security to put yourself out there and potentially experience emotional injury. But, it isn’t the experience that causes the most harm; it’s the response to that experience that determines whether we nurture personal growth or we let our insecurities derail it. 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Brené Brown

Vulnerability isn’t weakness and it is definitely not insecurity. In fact, vulnerability and insecurity are on the opposite ends of the emotional see-saw. Insecurity is a debilitating awareness of one's limitations. Vulnerability is the ability to see one's potential for growth. Vulnerability is what happens when you graduate from insecurity.

Only when we outgrow our insecurities can we find the freedom to grow from our vulnerabilities.

Being vulnerable is being open to the construct that you may not know what’s around every corner, but you’re going to find out. It’s being open to the world instead of hiding out in fear of it. It’s knowing that the journey of YOU is never-ending, that you’re never done learning, making mistakes, and growing. It’s discovering what is on your horizon and making it happen.

My friend Bob and others who have faced similar challenges may read this and feel that being “scared and vulnerable” turned out to be nothing more than a long, painful prep for the shit sandwich of life. To that, I say:

Here. This. Now.

Be present. Let go. Find the courage to look inside. Instead of being shackled by the failures and the obstacles and the unfairness of past experiences, learn how to experience the successes and opportunities and gifts of the “now.” Find gratitude in the knowledge that your journey isn't over. It all begins and ends with gratitude.

The struggle is real, but it’s often not with the world; sometimes it’s within us.  Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy.

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