Often when we hear the word “vulnerable,” we associate it with some sort of negative idea or experience. It can bring to mind weakness, disenfranchisement, or lack of protection. Consider the expressions “vulnerable members of society,” “vulnerable to infection,” “vulnerable before the committee of her peers.”
Given these associations, why would One Stone intentionally encourage its students to be vulnerable?
At the beginning of the school year, our first year students did an overnight trip to Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. They embraced vulnerability by leaving home, sharing an unknown space with fellow students they’ve only just met, eating whatever food was served, and spending time outdoors in the cold and snow.
They participated in team-building activities, including a scavenger hunt, rope shapes, “Convergence,” “This is not a bandana,” and “Least Common Denominator.” (If you’re not sure what these are, be sure to ask your student.)
They also told One Minute Life Stories, opening themselves to being vulnerable by shedding images that are tempting to portray, and instead sharing who they really are and what their life experience has been. Some shared something funny. Some shared something sad. Many shared what brought them to One Stone. We sat in a circle in a warm room, sheltered from the cold outside, listening attentively to each other’s stories for almost two hours.
Ironically, the meme Fake it Till You Make it was gaining popularity at the very same time we were practicing this exercise in authenticity. As its name implies, it’s about pretending to be something you’re not until you’ve faked it long enough that you become it. Many people believe in this approach. And I agree that it might have some merit, albeit probably short-lived.
My question is, why fake it? Why bother investing energy in being something false when you can put your energy into focusing on what’s real and unique about yourself? Doesn’t it make more sense, in the long run, to open yourself to being vulnerable in order to develop a more authentic sense of yourself and your life experience? Adolescence can be challenging and confusing time but at One Stone, we wonder, what better time to begin finding out who you are and who you want to become?
Notice, “Fake it” did not make its way into our BLOB. Instead, we believe in fostering a growth mindset by encouraging each other to embrace our unique qualities, empathize with others, act with intention, persevere, and learn from mistakes. In this context vulnerability doesn’t have a negative connotation; we view it as a condition essential to personal and academic growth.
After our One Minute Life Stories, we went outside for a sunset hike. It started snowing again and the temperature dropped as night fell. It didn’t seem to matter, though. We all traveled a little lighter, and a little closer together, having lifted the weight of pretense and feeling more connected through our stories.
As we were hiking, I thought about the benefits of being vulnerable:
You let go - Rather than expend your energy bottling up your flaws, you use it to reflect on your own unique experience and share that authenticity with others.
You connect with others - You let go of the falsehood of perfection. (Side note: No one enjoys hearing about how perfect you are.) Our flaws are what make us unique, approachable, and able to share experiences with others.
You empathize - You are less judgmental. You are more accepting of others. You know you’re not alone. You extend kindness as you embrace the idea that everyone you meet has a story.
You “reframe it” - Being vulnerable and sharing experiences allows you to see your life from a different perspective. Maybe your once larger-than-life problem even shrinks a bit.
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown puts it beautifully:
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
I like to think that love, belonging, and joy are part of what makes One Stone such a special place. Thank you, students, for the courage you had to be vulnerable and the light you bring to our community.
Jane Walther is the infrastructure director at One Stone, an organization that makes students better leaders and the world a better place.