“I can imagine the face you are making right now,” says my best friend over the phone. And it’s true: He probably can. That is part of what makes this relationship and a few other friendships as rewarding as they are. He knows me well enough to know not only how I will react to something, but also how I will communicate this reaction publicly.
Many of the Yale students I have come to know and love started off with similar social patterns: They liked having big networks of friends. These networks are filled with people to talk to on the street corner and ask “How was your summer?” without necessarily wanting a long and detailed answer. They come with promises of lunches and coffee that may or may not actually happen — and yet we aren’t offended when someone didn’t really mean she would follow through. We also have friends and suitemates with whom we spend nearly all of our time — and yet some Yalies still feel lonely though they are constantly surrounded by activity and groups of so-called friends.
We have all learned to manage challenges and failures and move forward. It’s part of the reality of being a student here. You simply will not be able to do everything offered to you and do it perfectly. Every single other student I know was in some way unprepared for academic, social or mental challenges. During those low points, we feel more alone than ever in our lives. We are surrounded by some of the most talented students from across the country and around the world. How can we admit we’ve done something wrong?
Vulnerability is terrifying. It means standing in front of the mirror of your own judgment and scrutinizing yourself for much more than your physical appearance. You can put on your war paint and a smile for every day you spend at Yale without developing the internal strength and understanding of who you are as a person. What will carry you through every challenge you face here and when you leave Yale comes from that personal fortitude that only you can build up by allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
University of Houston professor of psychology Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability went viral shortly after it was posted on TED.com. Her message is simple but profound: She defines shame as a fear of unworthiness of peers’ acceptance and friendship. If they know this about me, we think, then they will not accept me. We choose to “numb vulnerability,” Brown says. But we cannot do this without turning off other emotions like excitement and anger and joy, because numbing vulnerability also means numbing emotion.
How often I have listened to this TED talk and felt the weight of truth in her words. But where could I start when I, like many other Yalies, learned to turn off emotions to get whatever I needed to done, come off as completely put together at all times and be able to adapt quickly and effectively to all environments?
I found peace and acceptance in my friendships — in relationships where everything is laid out in all of the beautiful and ugly truth it holds. My best friends call me out on my mistakes, bad decisions or good work, even when I will not reach these conclusions on my own terms. My friends’ words hold weight for me, because we are able to see, understand and respect each other for all of the pieces that come together and make the whole of the other person. These friendships I have formed at Yale come from late nights sitting in common rooms and hallways, tears, frustrations, failure, unexpected success, celebration of jobs well done, criticism to push the other toward improvement — and acceptance when I never thought it could come.
I could only form these relationships that give me the strength to do everything I do because I accepted vulnerability as part of the bargain. There’s a constant pressure to duck out early and stay emotionally safe. But it’s not worth it. I will tell my friends that I love them because it is true and we both know it, even with the occasional pain that sometimes comes from trusting people on this level.
I believe in them, the same way they believe in me. And that is always worth the price of being vulnerable. So take the time to say what you really mean to those who matter. The results are something you will always carry with you.