The Philosophy of Vulnerability

Who’s Your Person?

Guest Author: Nick Johnston

About the guest author:

My Name is Nick Johnston. I don’t really have any cool titles about me or anything—at least not yet. I am majoring in Psychology with minors in Leadership Studies and Outdoor Physical Education at Colorado State University – Pueblo. Yes…I’m aware that none of my degrees match in any way whatsoever—believe me, every adult has already told me. Currently, I work as a Student Facilitator with ‘Outdoor Pursuits,’ the outdoor department of the student recreation center at CSU-Pueblo. This is really just a fancy way of saying that I get to help lead some amazing student trips, and hang out and play games with kids—which I love. So much in fact, that I volunteer with the organization Younglife, where I mentor, walk in community with and support teenagers in their journey to adulthood. In my spare time I enjoy painting, taking pictures, shooting archery, snowboarding, going to concerts, and watching Hawaii-Five-O.

I want you to imagine a person for me in your own life. This person can’t be related to you, but this is still someone who you are close to.  Think of the person who knows everything about you. The person who you look up to and admire. The person who you could call in the middle of the night, just because you need to talk through something. The person you can fully place your full trust in. The person that knows when you’re having a rough day, and knows the exact words to say. The person who can change your mood, just by being around them. The person who you couldn’t imagine your life without.

I hope that you have a person envisioned in your mind now. Maybe a coach, principal, community member, or personal mentor fulfills each of these categories. If you have a couple people, that’s great too. Now think for a minute. Why was this person so significant in your life? Keep thinking: we will get back to this soon.

This past semester in my Leadership Studies class, we did a unique activity that really shaped my perception of myself, and where my priorities stand. We were all given 10 notecards, and we were instructed to write the ten things that were personally the most important to our life. Some examples were: faith, family, hope, music, joy, pets, health, and other similar values and assets. We were then told that we had to eliminate half of the set of cards, leaving us only with our top five. This was a struggle because we had to learn to justify what was truly important. After further discussion, we were told we could only move on with our top three cards. Cutting two more out was tough, as they all seemed very significant to our lives. By far, the most difficult step was when we were instructed to only select our top value. After numerous grunts and whines, each of us had determined what the most important personal value we had was. After careful and thoughtful consideration, I chose the word ‘Vulnerability.’

All my classmates questioned my choice when we went around the classroom, and shared our number one priority. In most circumstances we associate the word vulnerable, with weakness or inability, but frankly, it holds more significance than we give it recognition for.

Think about your person for me again. Have you come up with a reason why this person is so important to you? If you haven’t I believe I can give you a definitive answer. This person meant so much to you, not because of how cool they are, or how many times they have made you laugh, (even though that’s great too) but rather because you could be vulnerable with them. Vulnerable in the sense that you could go to them without the fear of disappointing them, without them judging you, and knowing that they will earnestly listen and support you in whatever you’re going through.

Think back. Did you ever go to this person after a bad breakup, when you didn’t get that job, when you didn’t make the team you wanted to, or when you felt just like nobody else would understand? Or if you just needed someone to cry to, without feeling demoralized? Chances are you did. But as you look upon it, the words they said, the hug they gave you, the mark they left on you was far more significant than you initially may have realized.

One of the biggest reasons you built this relationship with this person is because of the accountability you have with them. When you are slipping, when you aren’t on you A-game, when you aren’t being the person you were destined to be, your person will not be afraid to call you on it. Even when it seems frustrating, or annoying, this person only holds you to higher standards because they want the best for you, and won’t settle until you get there.

Having a specific and intentional mentor relationship is something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience, because these connections can truly shape your life forever. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Pixar movies ‘Monster’s Inc.’ Sully has a one of a kind, caring relationship with Boo, despite the entire city’s fear and disapproval, of a human child. In the same sense, when it feels as if the whole world is against you, or other people seem to be out to see you fail, your mentor, teacher or coach only wants to see you thrive, and be the best person you can, despite all other odds.

I think of my person, my mentor, my friend. A teacher I had in high school that made a tremendous impact on me in both my educational and personal life. This dude was crazy. He had a killer goatee, a great sense of humor, a passion for baseball, and an unconditional love for his students. Despite having the mentality of a middle school boy, and the attention span of a golden retriever puppy, this man was undoubtedly one of the most important people in helping me grow and develop into the person that I am today. He challenged me to not only look at concepts from a surface level, but to seek the underlying answer to uncertain questions. He expected me to fight for the things I believe in, and have dynamic reasoning to support my thinking. Though most of all, he believed in me.  My mentor invested hours of his time and energy into encouraging me to be the best I could. He walked side by side with me in my struggles, and celebrated with me in my victories, and never once gave up on me. Our vulnerability together and his willingness to have the hard talks about life pushed me to never give in, no matter how many obstacles I’m faced with. As he told me on numerous occasions with his coaching mindset, “Keep Swinging Buddy.”

When we think of vulnerability, maybe we should replace our ideal notion of weakness and inability with the philosophy that vulnerability is the foundation for triumph, and the stem for personal growth. That the interpersonal relationships we build with those who truly love and care for us, may spark, or inspire us to pursue greatness, and be the same strong tower for someone else in the future. The cycle only continues when people can willingly lay down their pride and learn to share their struggles with someone else. So think about the person who you can go to whenever you need them, and recognize that “I wouldn’t have nothing, if I didn’t have you.”

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