On Vulnerability, Going Carless, and Having a List of People You Can Call

by Jan 13, 2015Building Courage13 comments

One of the things I like the most about not having a car is that it forces you to be a little bit vulnerable.

Sure, in this day and age, you can take advantage of ride-sharing or just rent a car. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with public transportation, that’s another option. But there comes a time when you’ll wish you could borrow someone’s car.

Why is it so hard to ask?

If the number of cars that line our street during the day is any indication, there are certainly plenty available. The truth is I’ve always avoided asking for help unless it was an emergency. For example, if I slipped on a rock after a long stroll down the beach, I would, most likely, ask for a stranger’s help in the long hobble back.

I wouldn’t like how vulnerable that made me feel. And I know I am not alone.

I once had a client, Ingrid, who built an entire career around a desire for self-sufficiency. After witnessing her mother’s anguish at feeling financially trapped in a marriage she no longer wanted, Ingrid vowed she would never, ever find herself beholden to the demands of someone else.

She pushed herself hard towards freedom: through university, then business school, then working her way up the ladder as a marketing executive. She managed accounts for alcohol and tobacco companies, which were lucrative but forced her to squash her own femininity to fit in and get ahead.

She desperately wanted to quit, but as the primary breadwinner for a family that had become accustomed to the lifestyle her pay provided, she felt she had to soldier on. She confided, “Every day I told myself: I have to persevere. I have to continue. I have to continue.”

That is, of course, when everything fell apart.

She developed a twitch in one of her eyes. Month after month she grew thinner. She developed mononucleosis. Her mother died. She quit her job and took a sabbatical, but still couldn’t see a way forward.

Unwilling to compromise on her hard-won financial independence, she tried freelancing. Although she gained more flexibility and fairly quickly was able to match her previous salary, she hated having to sell herself. Her continued unhappiness at work helped her to see that, like her mother before her, she has let herself become trapped in a marriage that was no longer working.

Two years after quitting her job, she divorced and embarked on a life as a single mother. You cannot be a working, single mom and get it all done alone. Now Ingrid works in the fashion industry, a job she loves, and has learned to regularly lean on her community of family, friends, her coach, and even her kids for support.

It was when Ingrid was brave enough to relinquish her need for self-sufficiency that she found a way to live a more authentic, passionate, and joyful life. I can’t help but think those two outcomes are related.

The idea of complete self-sufficiency has its roots in pride, fear, and distrust.

Vulnerability has its roots in courage, love, and community. Which would you rather have?

I have always explained my own reluctance to ask for help by saying I don’t like to impose. If I’m courageous enough to dig a little deeper, there is a fear that I will look stupid or weak or somehow less than, as if the whole world is just waiting for an opportunity to judge me.

Even I can recognize that as unhealthy thinking. So I combat it by reminding myself of the following:

  • Asking for help gives others an opportunity to be generous and feel more deeply connected.
  • Vulnerability does not make us look small; it is how we reveal our best, most gigantic self.

Over time, I’ve curated a list of people I can always call: when I’m stuck, when I’m thinking small, when I need to cry into someone’s arms, when I need a good, hard laugh.

Here’s the really funny thing: I’m so proud of this list. It is one of the hardest, most courageous thing I’ve ever done. You only get a list like this by doing try-outs with people you hope rise to the occasion and finding an authentic way to serve in the role for others.

To have such caring and generous people in your life is a luxury better than anything you can buy, no matter what the cost.

At the same time, it’s also ridiculously easy. It starts with having the guts to say something as simple as, “Hey, can I borrow your car?”