On Vulnerability and Learning

May 18, 2015

On Vulnerability and Learning | www.nalumana.com

As adults, I find that we rarely purposefully create discomfort or unease in our lives. We can go years without putting ourselves in that very vulnerable place of learning something new, being in a situation that scares us, or exploring the unknown with no way to predict what might happen. In my work, I see women fighting with the inevitability of the unknown in birth: for many, not knowing what will happen during the course of their labour and birth and not knowing whether they will achieve the outcomes they had hoped for is enough to send them into the throes of in-depth contingency planning or panic, or both.

Unlike in our childhood, when we knew so little about the world and every day had the potential to hold an earth-rocking life lesson, from toilet training to reading to getting a first job, adults rarely step out of what we know and into that place of learning and growth. It’s really scary, actually, because after a while we have a pretty good sense of confidence that we can successfully go about our day, making ourselves food to eat, driving our cars to work, doing our jobs, coming home and being with family and friends, and repeating that process the next day.

There is great vulnerability in stepping into the unknown; thrusting ourselves into unfamiliar territory. Having taught adult swimming lessons for years and then scuba diving for many more after that, I regularly encountered people who had decided to be in that space of learning something new as an adult. Trust me, there is nothing more vulnerable than learning how to swim as an adult, when it is harder to learn balance and movement in the water, and when the instinctual fear of drowning gathers power with over-thinking and analysis.

There’s a lot of power to be gained, though, in practicing our ability to grow beyond our comfort zones. I was reminded of this when I took my motorcycle training course last year. I was scared, and tentative, doing something I had never done before, and doing it in front of all these tough guys in leather jackets. There wasn’t a lot of room for my insecurities, and so I packed them away and got on with it. I wobbled and stalled the bike and creeped over gravel patches. My stomach flipped and flopped and I did the skills poorly four or five times before getting the hang of them. My ego was somewhere back at home or at work, where I usually know what I’m doing, and I was driving around a parking lot, firmly rooted in the vulnerability of personal growth.

I hope I don’t forget to make a habit of throwing myself into the unknown, be it by trying a new recipe or a new skill or a new way of life. I think that the more I do it, the more confident I will be that I can find my way through all that newness, unknown, and vulnerability, and come out the other side a little stronger, a little more self-aware, and maybe a little better.

When was the last time you learned something totally new to you?  How did it feel?