Be brave. Be resilient. Be flexible. Be open-minded. Be of strong values. Be one with a quiet mind. Be, be, be. We get told so often there are qualities which are useful to possess and while it is nice to hear, it can also be mighty hard to figure out how, exactly, to obtain these coveted character traits. More difficult still to put them into our daily lives. And yet, in the quest to build a life that speaks to you, one that makes you happy, having these skills in your toolbox does have a way of coming in handy. Not only having the skills, but also a deep familiarity in how, when and what prompts their use. Let’s look first at bravery.

There is a pretty good saying out there, “If the only tool you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail.” This might or might not be attributed to Abraham Maslow but the quote is pretty accurate. When we only know how to use one tool we see everything as being suitable for that tool. Applied to ourselves what this means is that if our only coping mechanism or approach is to take a run or go shopping or scream, we’re not likely to get too far.

So how, you might ask, is being brave a coping skill? Learning how to accept and open ourselves up to vulnerability, the first step toward being brave, is a habit. A choice. Brene Brown, a social worker who has spent her entire career studying shame, vulnerability and leadership, has been instrumental in clearly identifying what it means not only to be brave but how this can then shape the experience of our lives. Brown says, “The key to whole-hearted living is vulnerability. You measure courage by how vulnerable you are.”

Said another way; you measure your life, and how present you are in it, by how scared out of your pants you’re willing to be on any given day.

Scared doesn’t mean you’re willing to do something crazy-daisy like race down the road at 100 mph or use dental floss to repel out your office window. What we’re talking about here is how willing you are to be emotionally open in any given exchange. How much of yourself can you put out there without restraining yourself.

In real life what might this look like? It might mean telling your partner that you’re struggling today or that you’re afraid of something on your schedule. Perhaps it means saying out loud to the customer service person, “I screwed up and this isn’t something I should have ordered. Can you help me resolve this?” Some days it might mean that you stand in your truth while others disagree; and you do so without getting angry or upset.

This has, for sure, the possible consequence of hearing negative feedback or being misunderstood. And that is the risk we’re taking. Without that risk however, we put ourselves in a position where we stay emotionally and physically isolated, walled off to the rich experiences that await us. And that, to me, is no way to create a life filled with joy, happiness and fulfillment. 

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is no easy task. I don’t want you to come away from reading this and believe it is. It most certainly isn’t. Like many other habits it requires a daily decision to act differently, to resist doing things the way we’ve done them in the past. Make the choice, take the chance and let’s see where this takes you. You can make a new and different decision tomorrow if it’s really horrible but I suspect once you get into the habit you’ll come to like it a great deal; the payoff is immense.