Times of uncertainty, trauma, and transition illuminate our vulnerability. When the foundations we’ve grown to rely on crack, we feel exposed and tender. With our collective world shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, the ground beneath our feet is shifting, massively. We’re vulnerable.
The emotional landscape of this current reality brings me back to my recent journey with breast cancer. Surely an experience I would have never wished for, yet it offered an array of gifts and growth that shored up my foundation. One of the cornerstones began to take shape after my final surgery.
It’s amazing what I remember, given my foggy state. Mostly, I recall the sense of connection with my nurse Joey, the intimacy of our conversations in those quiet nightime hours. A tall, lanky twenty-four-year-old, just a few months out of nursing school, Joey was charged with getting me up every few hours to walk the hallway. This was part of the post-surgical protocol to help prevent a blood clot.
The scene remains etched in my memory, Joey pushing my IV pole as I shuffled around the circular hallway in my cotton hospital gown and fleece cap covering my bald head. I couldn’t possibly have felt more vulnerable, bandages wrapped tightly around my now flat chest, with another band across my abdomen covering the incisions made to remove my ovaries.
On our first walk I asked Joey to tell me about his journey to becoming a nurse. What followed was a beautiful story about his childhood dream of being a veterinarian. An internship with a vets office changed everything as he discovered his aversion to birds and snakes. He hadn’t thought about the fact that being a vet extended to animals beyond the dogs and cats and rabbits he loved as a boy.
Crestfallen, and with no sense of direction, Joey sought counsel from his cousin, a nurse. Joey felt a spark and applied to nursing school. He was accepted and soon realized that he’d found his true passion in caring for people. I could see why.
On our second walk of the night Joey inquired about my work, asking the question I’d come to dread, “What do you do?” I had been experimenting with how to talk about my work since leaving Disney and my decades in the theater. I hadn’t yet found a succinct way to articulate my passion for people and love of process and collaboration. How to best weave together the threads of my life as a theater producer with my work in leadership development.
That night I responded without skipping a beat. “I used to be a theater producer, and now I’m a human potential producer.” Joey was immediately intrigued. “Wow, that’s amazing. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds really cool. Tell me more.” It was the first time I had ever uttered those words, “I’m a human potential producer.”
Somehow in my loopy, vulnerable, stripped down (literally!) state, walking the hospital halls post-surgery, I was able to voice what felt real and true for me. To be truly authentic. No over-thinking or planning, no wondering what would sound good or make sense to the person asking. In that moment I created a phrase that felt accurate for me.
This was one of the gifts my cancer offered. My vulnerability that night was suddenly my strength. So why does it feel risky sometimes to just be real? Why does it take being pushed to the brink for protective layers to begin peeling back? I think it is a deeply human desire to want to feel safe, to protect our deepest truths.
But what if you could trust yourself? Imagine listening to the truth that lives below the surface. What if your full potential lives in your vulnerability? What if your vulnerability is the gateway to connect more intimately and authentically with others? What if vulnerability invites authenticity, shining a light on what is real and true for you?