Nothing lasts forever — not even stress. No matter how intense a problem or how significant a challenge, life moves on eventually. This too shall pass, as the Sufi poets taught us.
Of course, understanding the inherent ephemerality of life does little for us when we’re in the thick of a problem. All things may be temporary, but stress sure does feel permanent when it sinks its teeth in. It doesn’t matter what we do or how hard we try, we can’t seem to shake it. The stress, the challenge, the problem sticks around.
There is no denying that by nature we are vulnerable. As human beings and social creatures, we are naturally open to attack and capable of being hurt. But it is also true that by nature we don’t want to be attacked or hurt. As a result we find we’re always doing all we can to protect ourselves and hide what we see as our weakness.
Herein lies the vulnerability paradox. To be innately vulnerable while denying our vulnerability seems to be what is at the heart of being human, and more so, of being a leader.
The more we deny our vulnerability, the less influence we have on the world, the people around us, and ourselves. The more we hide away from what makes us feel uncomfortable, the less fulfillment and connection we experience.
Every day we make hundreds of them. What outfit to wear. When and where to go for lunch. How to word that important email. We make so many decisions so frequently that for the most part we’re not even aware of the decision-making process. It’s intuitive, quick and pain-free.
But as we move through life, inevitably some decisions arise that feel neither quick nor easy. They dig in and take root in our brains and our hearts and force us into a state of turmoil, often for weeks, months or even years at a time. The more we think about them, the less clear the path forward seems. Easy answers elude us. Trade-offs and trip-ups lurk everywhere.
Riding the subway home the other day I caught myself daydreaming. It was a wonderful feeling. The rattling of the train, the faces and the sounds around me ... all of them slipped away as my brain turned in on itself. I felt my ideas start to wander. I felt the joy of discovery, watching where my brain roamed free of my own judgement, free to just be.
I used to daydream all the time. I was known for it back in high school in Australia. I remember sitting cross-legged in a circle of girlfriends. Everyone would be talking and I would zone out. My friends knew the look — my gaze went distant, my eyes stopped blinking.