Trust. A Prerequisite for Vulnerability?
I recently returned from an amazing Pathways in Education school board retreat at the Rocky Mountains Pathways Ranch.
Last year for my birthday, I took a personal retreat in the Smokey Mountains to work on my business. The year before, I spent my birthday on a retreat at Blackbird Farm in Philo, California with Pathways.
So for the last three years I’ve gotten to enjoy the beauty and majesty of mountains while working and reflecting on life.
This year, I got to interact with some of the youth we serve in our California schools as they were participating in the experiential learning offered at the ranch. That’s always my favorite thing to do- talk to youth; especially youth with tough challenges.
As part of our board training, we talked about working with youth.
Opening with Brene Brown’s TedTalk: The Power of Vulnerability, our facilitators led a powerful and emotional discussion.
I got it immediately as I learned early on that opening myself up and sharing my mistakes was the way that I was able to connect with countless people, especially youth. I listened as other board members shared their opinions and experiences. As expected, a few of the men equated vulnerability with weakness. Truthfully, most of the women did too. I understood and agreed, but I also understood the true definition.
vulnerable– susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
Although I am a professional speaker, I still get nervous and emotional before I speak no matter the size of the group. So as I listened to the various points of view of other board members. I tried to calm my racing heart so that I could express my thoughts.
I explained how I felt when I put myself in the most vulnerable situation I had ever been in since I got pregnant twenty two years ago. When I published my memoir sharing very, very personal details of my life. I felt like I was standing before a crowd wearing nothing but a blank stare (not a smile) waiting for the group to hopefully approve of what they saw.
Perhaps, I felt like this alpaca I witnessed being sheered.
Helpless and exposed.
I had no idea what the reaction would be because I wasn’t confident in my “body”, but I felt like it was time to show it. To share it. To share my story and hopefully, just maybe someone would like it.
I was scared. Scared that I would be criticized, that I would be judged, that people would think less of me. Scared of people knowing so much about me, that people wouldn’t believe me and that I would hurt some of the characters in my story, especially my son.
Then something strange happened after releasing my book. I was standing there fully exposed, and people started to applaud. Some even started to expose themselves too. As the years went by, and I shared more and more and saw the healing that was happening for me and for others who read my story I came to a new conclusion.
Yes, I was vulnerable. But I had done the scariest and bravest thing I had ever done.
Over the years as I watched others share their challenges, mistakes, and shortcomings. I saw them as quite the opposite of weak. They were strong. And now, I see people who allow themselves to be vulnerable as the strongest people of all.
Yes, stronger than those of us who pretend to have it all together. Those who are perfect, without flaws, without sin.
I never can relate to those perfect people and neither can the youth we strive to help.
One board member then stated that in order to be vulnerable, there must be trust. I argued that in fact, it often happens the other way around. In my situation, by being vulnerable and opening myself up to ridicule and condemnation, youth have trusted me enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable too.
In our group discussion, trust was mentioned in the context of not using what is shared in vulnerability against you or thinking less of you for what you shared.
So that made me think about trust– (n) firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
On the next day of the retreat in groups of at least six, we boarded small cable cars and ventured 8500 ft about sea level on a sky lift to the top of the Rocky Mountains. As I watched the cars on the ground begin to look like the little Hot Wheels my son used to play with, I thought, “Now this is trust.” As I walked across the high stone bridge supported by only a few stone pillars, again 8,500 feet about sea level, “Now this is trust.”
After a couple of hours way above safety of ground level, I held my breath and looked away as we slid down the sky lift back to the ground in only three minutes. Trust.
Back at the ranch, a few of us took advantage of the opportunity to ride the beautiful horses used to teach the students about riding and much more.
Although I had only ridden once two years ago at Blackbird Farm, I wanted to ride again.
Standing next to my horse, Hope, as she was prepped for my ride, she stepped on my foot trying to avoid flies on her leg. I managed to scoot my foot out from beneath her right foot and got onto the saddle.
As I rode Hope’s back and watched other board members, some on much bigger horses. I thought about the size and power of these beautiful animals. I thought about how the horse could take off or throw me off. What if it didn’t respond to my stop command of pull and, “Whoa”? one thing stayed in my mind, “Now this is trust.”
I didn’t drive to Denver from Tennessee. We flew. So as I looked down on the clouds. on the flight back home, one thought, “Now this is trust.”
So when I think back to the conversation on vulnerability and the necessity of trust, do I think trust is important? Sure. But I hope that people began to see that being vulnerable, sharing that you are a real person with real lives and real flaws is not easy, does take strength. But is not nearly as scary or potentially life-threatening as many of the things we put our trust in everyday.
Imagine how free you will feel when you free yourself to show others you’re real.
I’m Summer Owens, and my passion is helping youth and young adults realize success no matter what obstacles they face. As an international resilience and leadership keynote speaker, author, S.O. What! Success Coach, and creator of the S.O. What! Literacy, Life Skills, and Character Education curriculum, I empower people to say, “So what!” to even their greatest challenges. provide a framework to help people see past their challenges and focus on solutions using the S.O. What! Success System (Overcome Obstacles + Eliminate Excuses + Calculate Choices = S.O. What! Success). Through keynotes, workshops, books, online courses, and workbooks, I use life’s challenges and my own story of resilience as a rape survivor and teen mom success story to help others confidently pursue their dreams.
Looking for an inspiring college motivational speaker? A high school literacy curriculum? A middle school life skills workbook? A great example for teen mothers? A women’s empowerment or single mother’s conference speaker? I’m your girl and will help any audience say, “S.O. What!”.