t’s an interesting thing to think that while we know ourselves better than anyone else does, our secrets and personality fragment between all the people we know and have known.
Our romantic partners know our deepest insecurities, our physical imperfections, and our biggest dreams. Our friends know our fears about that very same romantic partner. Our parents and family know about our childhood and our history, and our colleagues know all about our family troubles.
And from these fragments they try to piece us together, largely unaware that the puzzle isn’t ever near completion. I’d like to think that I have all my own life's puzzle pieces, but I don’t. I’ve shared some with exes and strangers that I’ll never get back again. Some I don’t want to retrieve, and some I want nothing more than to collect back. This is the very nature of human connectedness. When we all share our vulnerabilities and identities with others, they in turn share theirs back with us. Every now and then we collect pieces from others, and every once in a while, their puzzle pieces fill the gaps in our very own puzzle.
I’ve never been a very public person. I have a history of keeping things secret and not sharing things even when I badly needed to. But as I find myself travelling through Vietnam with a new travel partner, I realize that I’ve been more honest and vulnerable than ever before with the people I've come to know on the road. Just starting this blog posting about my day to day life and thoughts are my way of opening up, in a gradual sort of way. This vulnerability is completely cathartic and freeing, too. Some secrets are healthy and worth keeping, but most of the time it’s beneficial to be transparent and clear with the people we care about.
Travelling with others is one of the closest ways to bond. I think back to when I was based in Toronto and had different ties- friends, colleagues, family. As close as I was with these people, I never spent 24/7 with them. Now while travelling I find myself with travel partners constantly for months. If there’s ever been a secret recipe for expediting transparency and vulnerability, it’s to spend all your time with someone (this normally isn't a good idea, but the results are worth noting in this case). What happens is a new level of trust emerging where openness is required and games can’t be played, no matter how hard you try.
Sure, sometimes it's difficult and leads to arguments or needing a little space (especially for the introvert in me), but more often than not it leads to creating incredible bonds that don’t exist in the ‘real world’ of being situated in one place. Knowing that we’ll be travelling for some time allows us to open up gradually. Maybe it’s cautiously initiating a deeply personal conversation late one night in a hotel room and then revisiting it in the weeks to come. Maybe it’s asking questions in a serene pagoda environment while wandering through the trees. Whatever the case, vulnerability can always help enhance connections.
Travelling allows us to test the waters, too. We meet so many people on the road, and more often than not, we won't see many of them again- so why not test sharing secrets along the way? We can casually slip in secrets of our persona and see what reaction we get (hint: good people won't judge you for being honest). Working on the crisis phone line for a year was the absolute best way to see people at their most honest and vulnerable. They could test the waters by being anonymous, and I have to say that those conversations were some of the deepest and most memorable ones I've ever had.
When you see my most vulnerable side, I am most vulnerable to be hurt. But I’m also suddenly more receptive to receiving love and kindness. I trust that the people I surround myself with choose to be kind, so if there’s any trust to be had, it’s in sharing with them. If you can't trust the people you're closest with about some of your secrets (the ones you want to release), then why keep ties with them? Not to mention when we start sharing who we really are, we expose a greatness within us more powerful than any salary or physical appearance- honesty and a display of being completely alive and true.
"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive."
-Oriah Mountain Dreamer
When I first started exploring this whole idea of vulnerability after watching the now famous TED talk by Brene Brown (and then following up by reading her excellent books on the same topic) I felt like I already had the answers but was waiting for someone else to validate and explain that it was ok to explore it.
A part of me also felt that as a man it's more difficult to talk about this since it's ok for women to be more in touch with their vulnerability and sensitivities. But enough of these unhealthy gender norms already -- being honest and vulnerable takes courage and it doesn't matter what gender you identify as (and in my opinion, men who are most confident with their emotions and feelings are the most attractive of all). Furthermore, the stigma behind seeking therapy or psychological help needs to vanish- there's nothing more admirable than looking to get help and improve your wellbeing.
I've had trouble in my life developing connections with the majority of people, but that's because I seek depth and meaning instead of the superficial. It's the thing in life I look out for more than anything else, yet it's the most evasive. Some people don't want to go deep into their vibrant, exposed, inner worlds, but those that do are the ones who make me completely elated to know them. I never forget the places I've been when friends open up about who they are. And I never forget when I did the same. Coffee shops, parks, hotel rooms, and backyards. What stands now is that I'm completely grateful for the people who let me in on their true selves by being vulnerable. I'm thankful to know such honest people, and I will do everything in my power to stay connected with them for the rest of my life.
It's the kickoff of the 3-day celebration of the Lunar New Year here in Vietnam. The people are happier and cheerier than normal. The daytime streets of Saigon are quieter than usual, but full of camaraderie and joy. My challenge for you- don't wait for a special occasion to be true to yourself, find someone you care about and really let them in on who you are. The surface level is pretty, but the depths of our souls are sensational. ◼
What have you been waiting to share?