The Problem With Vulnerability

“[Running a business] is so hard. I don’t know many people who will understand, much less that I can trust.” 

Sobs muffled on the other end of a phone call with a dear friend—pent-up tears that revealed one too many sleepless nights stepping out boldly in business but held back by the hesitation to seek help. To the world, my friend is a successful entrepreneur, and yet so much lurks beneath the surface.

How many of us have been in this position? Whether struggling at work, stressing out at school, or disappointing others in relationship, our tendency is to clam up and just trudge forward with a happy emoji face. American culture defines strength by self-sufficiency, and the lie remains that independence is the key to survival.

American culture defines strength by self-sufficiency, and the lie remains that independence is the key to survival. 

As a hard-working Asian-American businesswoman opening up was not my jam, so much so that given the chance to face my issues I chose instead to run away to Asia (hey, go hard or go home). Thankfully, my family recognized that I had hit a low point and intervened. As a result I ended up in Hawaii, India, and Thailand on a 6-month discipleship training and missions program facing my fear of vulnerability head-on with people committed to helping me heal through past pains, all the while serving so many others through theirs.

And look how that turned out!

YWAM Kona Restorers community

Love means being grounded by people who have your back, which doesn’t happen unless you let them in. Pic credit: Seth Royal Kroft

If “selfie” was the word of the year for 2013, “vulnerability” must be it this year.

It was the topic of the month for the last Creative Mornings session; the buzz about town among psychologists, neuroscientists, and all kinds of -ists in The New York Times; the theme for Donald Miller’s most hard-hitting work yet, and a driving force for this inspirational discovery by an anthropologist in Africa.

So what does it mean to be vulnerable, and why is it so important? defines vulnerability (adj.) as “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon, as in ‘a vulnerable part of the body’.” It means pushing past the selfies and exposing what’s really going on beneath the surface, even and especially at the risk of getting hurt.

Perhaps this is why we, as friends, mates, and workers, harden our outer shells—a survival tactic to avoid devastation to our egos.

But self-protection is not the key to thrive.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 
-Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

The problem with vulnerability is not that it strips us down to our very core and leaves us weak. The problem is that so few are willing to do it, no matter how much we crave real connection. Fear of vulnerability is what led Scott Lewis, editor in chief and CEO of the Voice of San Diego, to lose profits and people. It’s what deepens loneliness, stops churches from the revivals they seek, and pushes so many to addiction and onto the streets.

I encourage you today, if you’re struggling professionally or personally, seeking positive impact for yourself or in your community, or just feel like there’s gotta be more to life: be brave. Step out. Ask for help. The Olympics are inspiring for a reason—it’s the story of how people can succeed with the right people behind them at crucial points in their life.


Do you think the US Womens’ Gymnastics team got this far by going hard, alone? I don’t think so. Image via

As a leader, being vulnerable makes you more human, more approachable, and empathetic. In teams, it allows others to come beside you and offer their strengths so you can excel where you shine and grow where you don’t. As a friend, vulnerability strengthens your bond. And as a lover, it deepens trust—the foundation of love.

Not everyone will be ready but there are so many who are, waiting for someone to step out first.



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