Dillan Digiovanni

The Ebenezer in everyone.

General, InspirationDillan DiGiovanniComment

Everyone has an inner Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the guy in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

And it's such an excellent story of personal transformation.

If folks know the story, they often focus on his identity early in the story. If someone's being miserly (what a great word!) we call him a Scrooge! 

It's true that ol' Eb was the perfect example of Scarcity mindset. It's that state of saving, scrimping, hoarding, and withholding. In the story, Ebenezer did this with money as a metaphor for his whole life. He couldn't even hook up Bob Cratchit with an extra lump of coal to warm his office, which expressed his lack of empathy. "My office is warm enough!" said Scrooge, totally oblivious to Bob's request for compassion about his own condition. Ebenezer had a lot of money and over the years became completely focused on that and only that to the point that his humanity took a major nosedive.

YEAHHHHHHH. A poignant story for times such as these, eh?

But Ebenezer had a huge breakthrough! He completely transformed! He literally hurled out generosity and compassion and material wealth into the streets of his local community. How often do we celebrate a story like that?!

Not too often. And I think I know why. Because everyone has an inner Ebenezer. It's called our ego. It's the thing inside us that focuses only on what we don't have instead of what we do have. We can have so much abundance and wealth in so many different forms and yet, what do we do with our time?

Complain about what hurts.

Worry about the future.

Gripe about what others are doing with their lives.

Compare ourselves and what we have or who we are to other people.

Distract ourselves with an endless list of things and post things like, "I can't even," and "omg it's Monday again?!" and "is it wine o'clock yet?" and, well, you can fill in the rest. 

There's a lot of scarcity all around and it's more apparent to someone like me or you, if you have experienced significant loss and tremendous change in your life. The great teachers say that the deeper our spiritual transformation, often brought on by trauma or tragedy, the more clearly we see the world as we never did before. And what we see reveals the truth about what matters and what doesn't. That new lens is the silver lining to the clouds of difficult times.

But until you get there (and often even when you do), people are kind of caught in the matrix of striving and competing and struggling toward something and the result is never feeling like anything or anyone is good enough. You don't appreciate what you have and keep focusing on what's wrong because it feeds that feeling of not having enough. We think if we can fix it (whatever IT IS) then, FINALLY THEN, we can sit and relax. It's a hamster wheel and the Buddhists call it samsara. I wanted to call it the Ebenezer Effect but others got to that phrase first and mean something different by it. 

But we'll get there.

image from Disney's A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey

image from Disney's A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey

The Ebenezer in everyone is all over social media and it's in our daily lives with the people we know and work with and hang out with. Whenever you notice someone who really does have plenty complaining or worrying or focusing on what isn't there or what isn't going right or not happening, that's the inner Ebenezer.

And then what happened to him? What's possible for all of us?

He saw it. He got it. He had the epiphany. With the help of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Ebenezer realized that all the loss he'd experienced and the pain and fear he felt had hardened him into a miserly person who struggled to give and receive love, kindness, and generosity. If he stayed on that path, he was destined to die alone with nothing but his money.

Did you hear that some people are so poor, all they have is wealth? That's another blog post for another time. But that was Ebenezer's fate and he realized it and saw that all the things or money wasn't worth what he was missing out on every day in his life. The ability to help Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim or hang with his loving nephew and give money to the poor. 

He woke up and felt so grateful to still be alive, he changed his whole mindset. He celebrated his wealth and wanted to share it to expand the reach of it. He had the major catharsis that as long as he was alive, he had ONE MORE CHANCE to be the person he wanted to be as best he could.

image from Muppets Christmas Carol

image from Muppets Christmas Carol

And the best part of this story?

As long as you're reading this right now, you have the same opportunity. That potential Ebenezer is in everyone. 


Harvest Dinner of Champions

Recipes, GeneralDillan DiGiovanniComment

Nothing says fall like some harvest dinner goodness.

Like cheddar cheese and crackers and some squash and apple soup? And don't forget the kale, of course.

Get a feeling of groundedness from the squash (it grows in the ground, get it?) and the sweetness of the roasted butternut plus the apple will totally satisfy your sweet tooth. Choose locally-made cheddar if possible. Making this meal definitely made me miss living in Vermont where I was this time last year but I'm grateful for all the good memories.

Here's a fall-tastic meal that's easy, convenient and delicious. What more can you ask for?

Harvest Dinner of Champions

Harvest Dinner of Champions Dillan DiGiovanni

Roasted butternut squash and apple soup:

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 medium apple (like Honeycrisp or Pink Lady), chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 2 tsp olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Use parchment paper to line a baking dish or cookie sheet.

3) Add butternut squash cut lengthwise into quarters. Remove seeds and rub exposed squash flesh with extra virgin olive oil (oh my!)

4) Bake in the oven for 35-50 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork. Cut into cubes and keep the skin on.

5) In a large pot, melt 1 TBSP butter over low heat and brown onion.

6) Add chopped apple and cook 2 mins. Add 1 cup water. Add cubed squash.

7) Add 1/2 cup more water if needed and cook contents down until soft. Add small pinch of salt. USe hand blender to combine all ingredients until smooth. Serve warm in a bowl.


Sauteed kale with sliced garlic:

  • 3-4 big kale leaves, trimmed off stem and chopped fine
  • 1 large garlic clove, sliced very thin
  • 1 TBSP coconut or olive oil

1) Warm oil in a frying pan over medium heat

2) Add garlic and cook 3 minutes until it begins to brown

3) Add chopped kale and cook down until soft

4) Serve hot and sprinkle with pinch of sea salt


Cheese and crackers

Buy good quality cheese and crackers to complement this meal. I enjoy CABOT Cheddar and Carr's Crackers.


I'd love to hear comments if you make this! What is your favorite part? I can't choose, I love every aspect. That's why I posted it as a package deal.



Ask for adversity.

Inspiration, GeneralDillan DiGiovanniComment

The human experience, not just the body, was designed to grow stronger through exertion. We aren't static fixed things, we are ever evolving. So we grow or expand or shrink in proportion to how hard we're working. And life provides all the exercise we could ever want, if we have the right attitude about it. And that right attitude is to actually ask for adversity. 

Does your cynicism hurt? Because it's killing me.

Dillan DiGiovanniComment

Yes, I took one of the silliest jokes and turned it into a title for my thoughts on cynicism. 

Because this is what I'd like to say to total strangers and acquaintances and friends to either make them laugh or give them a bit of a wake-up call.

It's not like I haven't known cynicism, myself. I don't pretend to be above it all. But it's because I felt it down to the marrow of my bones, and know how little cheese there is down that tunnel as they say, that I feel compelled to ask does your cynicism hurt? Because it's killing me. Just like my own nearly killed me.

And sometimes I catch myself wishing I could have back a day or an hour that I spent sitting as a disempowered malcontent. But then I remember it was only from all the time spent suffering in my self-created prison that I truly can understand and empathize with the people still doing that and dwelling there. It's from living it that I've come to love it about myself and feel compassion for others struggling with it.

And, contrary to its current association with eye-rolling pessimism about peoples' motives, the original Greek cynics believed in virtue as the highest good and worth striving for. Ironic, eh?

So how did we get here? How did we get to the point of trolls in comment threads and naysayers at every turn? To keep not believing that people could be good or fair? To keep comparing lives of privilege and disadvantage? To find fault with virtually every action or word every person takes?

When you step back and see the shaming and blaming that goes on in the name of "social justice", it's awesome. And not in a good way.

Why does it happen? How does cynicism creep in and take over and how do we overcome it?

It's a simple decision, really. It's a choice each one of has every second or moment of each day about every person, place or thing we encounter based on past experiences or threat of our greatest fears. We reach the crossroads of that decision when we begin to see clearly through our own self-denial about our life decisions. Or maybe the blinders of our cultural/social privilege were removed and we now see the "reality" (subjective at best) of the way things work and how human beings treat each other and the systems they design benefit some more than others.

When we arrive here, at this crossroads of awareness, we may have a moment of sheer and total panic. 

Oh, my goodness, we say. What have I been doing this whole time? What dream world was I living in? What rock have I been living under? Who made it like this? Why isn't it all different?

As Emily Dickinson so wisely said, "the truth dazzles gradually. Or else the world would be blind."

I serendipitously had that sentence tattooed up the entire length of my right arm in 2009 before the fun really began and then, in 2012, I came to understand what Emily may have meant.

But up until then, I was living in a bubble of self-delusion and denial, like most humans do, buffering me from the toxicity and trauma that surrounded me every waking moment of every day. We sort of have to pretend it all doesn't exist so we can keep on, keeping on, don't we?

If you don't know what I mean, make a short list in your head of your greatest fears that you hope don't ever come true in your life and the lives of other people or the things that have that you never wanted and then just try to accept that those things are currently happening everywhere all the time and how little control you have over anything and everything. And I mean, anything and everything. 

And if we allow ourselves to even believe and digest that reality for a second, it can be completely paralyzing and maybe even be depressing to the point of debilitating. 

So we make a decision. We'll either accept it and our powerlessness (which is true freedom) or we rally to try and change and fix it all, like I did for a long time. Over time, despite our striving and trying to change and fix the ills of the world as we perceive them (in an attempt to distract us from ourselves), we see how little of a difference we're making. 

And then, oh and then, we get pissed.

We get pissed that everything is a hot damn mess and it isn't right or fair or just or clean or convenient or stable or reliable or consistent or easy or any of the things our delusion led us to believe we deserved or were entitled to.

Damn it. Our expectations of people, places, and things didn't line up with reality.

People are people.

Things break.

Weather changes.

Land erodes.

Jobs disappear.

Money comes and goes.

But people. Let's just stay with people. Because we all seem to find a way to deal with all the other things like weather and such but we can't seem to deal with how people really are. And our cynicism about people and who they are and what they do or don't really bleeds into our whole lives. Ultimately, our decisions about what we expect of people, our lack of responsibility for those expectations, really cause some rampant, contagious cynicism. And that cynicism ends up killing us, sometimes literally, and affecting everyone else.

But how many of us are even able to see ourselves doing this? How many of us have the self-awareness to separate ourselves from the pack to see our part in the whole thing?

Based on my almost four decades on the planet, not too many.

I know why. It's not a pleasant process. 

If conquering cynicism, borne of an inherent self-trust, means intentionally diving into your own disempowerment, that involves doing work most humans simply aren't willing to do. Addressing the wounds and trauma we've experienced and have likewise inflicted on others means summoning courage from places we've never accessed. Our muscles for this work are woefully weak. 

It's why cynicism is so much easier. It's our way to get and stay off the hook for this kind of work.

If we can stay bitter and angry and resentful about who others are and who we never had the courage be or become, we can hide for our whole lives.

But we're smart, friends. And somewhere deep in our subconscious, we know we're doing this. The knowing is the monster in the basement that bangs things around from time to time, especially at 3am on a work night, the ever present reminder.

We resent the monster. We resent the basement. We resent the whole damn thing called being human.

The resentment becomes ideologies with political or religious justification. Or a habit of chronic complaint. Or keeping up with the Joneses. Or gossip. Or hatchets between people that linger unburied for their whole lives.

The resentment becomes general cynicism that shields us from being truly vulnerable and ever knowing the healing power of true love, for ourselves and others.

Hiding so far and deep from that much love hurts. The realization that we do it to ourselves may be the deepest hurt we may experience.

But if we're willing to go there, we can begin the paradoxical process of undoing the very things we detest. 

In the depths of my own deepest despair brought on by years of imagined and actual trauma, I sat face to face with my contempt for every human--including myself. In that place, I had a choice. To keep hating myself and other people, cynical about everything that manifested and materialized from that place, or have a breakthrough. 

That's how my cynicism nearly killed me. It nearly deprived me of creating the very world I wanted for myself and other people. The cynicism almost took away my chance to help people learn to love themselves and other people. And without that experience, I never would have understood how pervasive cynicism is, why, and how to overcome it.

The moment we deprive someone of the opportunity to be their best self with our doubt and fear and shame and blame, the less we move toward the society we claim to want to be part of.

It's why the cynicism of others kills me because it's so obvious that, in striving for virtue, an act of self-love and self-trust if there ever was one, we are the very solution the problems we perpetuate.

Those Greek philosophers were really onto something, weren't they?


Can being hopeless help us?

Dillan DiGiovanniComment

In the search for enjoying this thing called the human experience, is the trick to having it all actually wanting nothing?

If we usually associate being hopeless with despair, regret and futility this may seem a dire proposal. Yet, in our endless striving to keep up with the Joneses’, folks I’m curious to actually meet to see what the fuss is all about, we’re faced with countless opportunities and possible inevitable failures. The more we want something, the more it impacts us negatively when we’re denied it. And yet, we persevere in the pattern.

We often do this from a place of hope, wanting things to go the way we want or planned. We hope the climate will heal itself, despite our many actions that threaten it. We then hope people will stop taking actions that harm the climate, once we’ve woken up to what would help. We hope people wouldn’t harm animals or eat meat or tokenize marginalized people or abuse or exploit people. We hope men would be more chivalrous but sensitive and better communicators. We hope women will be tender and nurturing but bold and fierce in the corporate world. We hope the cake will reveal the sex of the baby we want without considering that baby might have been born transgender. We hope the weather will be nice for our vacation. We hope the jerk in front of us in traffic would get off his phone and pay attention before he hurts someone.

We hope and hope and hope. We spend our whole lives hoping. In our constant need and desire to feel good, we hold onto hope to avoid feeling anything negative or unsavory. Our whole lives rest on our hopes which is escapism in its purest form.

If we can hope for an alternate reality, we don’t have to be tuned in and vulnerable with what’s actually around us. In our hope for the future, we forget that we’re creating it in the now.

If we’re constantly choosing something that isn’t what we have, what does it mean for what we actually want?

What we resist, persists. What we allow, transforms.

So if it’s a new or different reality we want, we have to detach ourselves from actually wanting it. How does that work? Well, the trick is allowing and wanting what’s happening because it IS happening. The only way we’d ever get freedom from our wanting is to stop wanting. Otherwise, it’s an endless cycle of displeasure and dissatisfaction that would go on endlessly until we die.

That’s actually how most human beings live. It’s reality. Everything is “I hope” this and “I hope” that instead of, “I accept what is” as the genesis to accepting more and more of what is toward it becoming what we wanted after all.

When we live from a place of receiving what comes as everything we needed, either because it truly is enough or because it teaches us something we needed to see or learn about ourselves and the world, we get off the hamster wheel of wanting something else. We see every interaction, every conversation, every opportunity, every material possession lost or found, as the very thing we needed in that moment.

We don’t hope for people to be other than who they are. We don’t hope to win the lottery. We don’t hope that people will stop or start eating grass-fed meat. We don’t hope for anything. We allow what people do or say or think or feel and we use it all as wisdom for who we choose to be.

When we learn to be more hopeless, don’t live our lives resting our potential for happiness on outcomes outside of ourselves. Hoping is too passive or boring for us. Instead, we take action toward doing and thinking and feeling and saying and being who we think might make a positive difference in the world. We do it without wanting or needing or hoping other people will validate or support or emulate us.

We stop hoping and we start doing to get more of what it is we want or need. Acting from volition helps us feel empowered and energized and inspired toward building the life and the world we dream about.

Make room for it all.

Inspiration, GeneralDillan DiGiovanniComment

Last week I told a client struggling with anxiety and depression about a tactic I've come to find very helpful in battling my own anxious and depressed reactions.

I told her to make room for it all.

Often we feel anxious or depressed because we're consciously or subconsciously choosing to hold down or repress or suppress something we are feeling. Maybe we don't feel comfortable feeling it. Maybe it doesn't feel safe to express it. 

So we try to say, "sorry, not now. There's no room for you (feeling) at this moment."

And the feeling doesn't like that. So it waits for another opportunity to be heard and seen and felt. And if we don't make room for it, it demands our attention in other ways. 

Like insomnia. Or illness. Or anxiety. Or depression. Or some other ways.

What happens when we make room for it all? All those feelings we feel and all those thoughts we have? Who wonders that it would horribly scary and horrible? Who wonders if it would work to feel more relief?

Have you tried it? Do you know what would happen?

After years of unconsciously doing other things, I've practiced making room for it all.

I make room for feeling like a failure.

I make room for feeling lonely.

I make room for feeling confident and inspired.

I make room for feeling depressed and rejected.

I make room for feeling uncomfortable in my body one day and completely dysphoric the next. 

I make room for feeling annoyed at opinionated people.

I make room for feeling sadness about racism and sexism and all the other isms.

I make room for feeling hopeless and helpless.

I make room for feeling competent to educate and inspire others toward change.

With each day and month that I practiced this, making room for all of it, I saw that it got easier. It's not easy, but easier. Sometimes I have to sit down to do it because it feels like being on a ship at sea during a massive storm without any Dramamine. Sometimes a few tears fall. Sometimes I need to give myself a pep talk. Sometimes I do nothing and just notice the complicated nature of consciousness and how our minds work.

Deep thoughts by Dillan DiGiovanni. LOL.

The truth I've come to know is that I don't disappear down a big hole. I don't fall apart at the seams. I don't cry forever.

I don't die.

I just feel it and when the wave washes over me, I'm still there. Sitting and breathing. Really doing ok. And, like my client on the coaching call, I actually feel much better. Much lighter. More able to breathe and open my eyes a bit wider. 

Making room for it all actually helps us get better at making more and more room. More room for us leads to making more room for others.

But start with you. Because you make an impact each day on the lives of many people.

Start with making more room for all of what's happening for you. It's a good place to start.



Absolutes are much easier.

InspirationDillan DiGiovanniComment

Keeping an open mind and allowing anything and everything to be possible at any time is tricky. It really stretches us. 

That's why absolutes are so much easier. And absolutes are what we humans cling to, it's how we're hardwired, so to speak. Absolutes are right/wrong thinking--when we think we are "right" and someone else (or a group) is "wrong". We know best. They are confused. Things should be done "this" way, not that way. 

We surround ourselves with absolutes so we can feel a sense of ground beneath our feet. We invest in absolutes to feel control, to have certainty.

So why don't we ever feel content? Why are we so restless and unfulfilled? Why are we so quick to frustration with others? Why don't our absolutes make the world work better? Why do we still have so much anger, death, loss, violence, and aggression? 

Because without absolutes, what we have is surrender. And many people associate surrender with defeat. And if we're defeated, what will happen to us?!

Maybe we think if we surrender we've given up and we lose. We're failures. We didn't work or try hard enough for the thing we believe in.

Maybe we think if we surrender, something really bad will happen to us.

So we fix so firmly to our beliefs and we see them as right and real and the Truth. 

Have you ever read the story, "Old Turtle and the Broken Truth"? It really inspired my thinking about what we see as good and right and how that actually impacts the world. I sometimes consider reading it for an episode of my podcast. Would you tune in if I did that? Or other books or snippets that might be inspiring?

While absolutes are easier, the wisdom is that there is no real ground there. There is no refuge, no safe space to hide. The absolutes we cling to only seem to make things more challenging because they limit us. And they limit other people. 

They limit what we can be, do and have. They limit how others can speak, think and act. 

And if it's freedom and love that we're after, limiting people and ourselves moves us in the wrong direction. It's the opposite of freedom. It's the opposite of joy.

So, Dillan (you're probably wondering), are you suggesting we just let people do and say whatever the hell they feel like? 

Perhaps, Because if you've noticed, they are doing that anyway--despite your feelings about it. Despite your feeling or thinking and living within your particular absolutes, people just keep peopling.

And it creates a lot of frustration, anxiety, and war. 

What would be possible for you if you lived with fewer absolutes in your life? Would you feel less stress? Less reactivity? Less frustration? Less annoyance? Less limits--first and foremost for yourself--and then for others?

What would that feel like?

What would you be able to do, be or have?




Giving up good for great.

General, InspirationDillan DiGiovanniComment

The only constant is change.

If we want better, we need to be willing to give up good, often really good, for great.

Sure. Sounds like a cliche inspirational meme, right?

But what about when we have to go there and face what it truly means? When we have to risk the cost, the sacrifice, the sheer terror involved in not only overcoming denial to face reality but then actively choosing to do something to change? 

It's why most people are terrified of change and avoid it at all costs. We worry about the lack of control. We fear The Great Unknown.

Maybe we resent the work involved. It's easier to do nothing new. 

We don't ever know the answers until we take action, the very action that terrifies us. So we cling, with a fierce mental grip, on things or people or places, sometimes dangerous or toxic, sometimes just uncomfortable. We stay and it keeps us stagnant and safe. Safe and stuck. Stuck and settling.

But we aren't meant to settle. Deep down we know that. We're meant to thrive. And eventually something might leave us or we decide to leave because we realize it was no longer meant for us. That it served its purpose and our clinging to it creates suffering. If it was really good, we can be grateful.

I think this as I sit in my new home which is back "home". As in the state of New Jersey where I was born and raised, but now living on the Jersey Shore for the first time. I landed here after a challenging, life-changing summer spent wandering and wondering. It was the next phase of my personal growth, of my evolution, that I live out loud as an example of the professional work I do in the world as a coach.

Walking my talk, day after day.

I sit and breathe in the salty sea air and feel the mist on my face as I jog along the boardwalk each morning, fighting with fierce compassion to bring my body back into shape after a year spent first in unintentional retreat and then intentionally adrift. 

I come home and take off my shoes. I breathe in gratitude and exhale the familiar twinge of grief. I pause and close my eyes. It was this day a year ago that I drove a moving truck through the congested highways of Boston and up the winding dirt roads of Vermont. I unpacked all my worldly belongings, significantly reduced from many moves over the last five years, into a renovated barn where I settled for the next 8 months.

I miss that barn almost every day since I left it. It was the perfect home I'd wanted and needed and every day felt like a precious gift. Every morning, I'd rise early and meditate and then trot downstairs from the loft to make a fire in my small wood stove. Then coffee. Breakfast. Music of my own choosing. Days spent doing only the work I wanted. I rose with a smile and fell asleep with a smile every single day for eight glorious months.

It was the wood stove was what called me there. From a deep knowing that refused to be ignored. With ten days left on my lease in Boston, right down to the wire, I found my perfect next place. When people asked me why I moved there of all places I replied, without skipping a beat, "my wood stove."

And then in April. a new landlord removed the stove. The insurance was too costly, he said. And when I saw the extensive renovations he immediately began on his own small house thirty feet from the barn, I understood why. I tried to reason and it fell on deaf ears. 

It was time to go. I heard the voice actually say it. "Your time here is done. You've gotten what you needed. It was good. It was wonderful. It was the long retreat you needed to heal. And now it's time to get back out into the world." Who's voice it was, I'm not sure. My intuition perhaps? Or maybe that of my friend William, who died within days of me moving in there, urging me to move up and out to shine my light in the world again.

I didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave something that had been so, so very good. But I knew in my deepest knowing that it was time. I was time to seek and find something just as good, or great.

And so I packed and grieved as I moved among the boxes, cherishing each moment I spent in solitude staring out the massive picture window. The way I'd painted the entire place with the property owner before I moved in, using colors I chose to make it feel more like mine. Decorating it to match my very heart's desire. Cooking robust meals to feed my body. Making new friends. Walks I took in the dark. Hooting owls waking me at midnight. The babbling brook that thawed in spring, and woke me in the morning through my cracked window.

The way I cried when the anger came up and out in March. Anger that had been shoved deep down for three years. Anger that finally had room to breathe and be freed into the crisp mountain air. Anger that dissolved as soon as it felt seen.

It was time to go.

It was time to give up good for great. I didn't know what would happen but I knew it was time to find out.

When something feels good and right, it is so hard to know when or how or if we should give it up. It's so hard to trust that something better is meant for us and waiting. Do we just need more tenacity? Are we being selfish? Too impulsive or non-committal?

What's wonderful is our freedom to explore these questions and find answers that feel right and true for us. We're blessed with this thing called life that's the ultimate adventure game if we'd only learn to live it that way. If we gradually released our expectations and attachments gently so we could drift more easily from thing to thing as the wisest sages suggest.

How can we embrace this?

What can we practice each day to do it better?

When can we tune into our intuition and trust, as we have so many times before in our lives, that the message is the right one?

We must practice giving up good for great, even when we have no idea what great might be.

Why vulnerability often feels impossible.

General, Health and WellnessDillan DiGiovanniComment

Vulnerability is a hot topic these days. It's right up there with being authentic and a spiritual gangster. 

I'll share what thoughts I have from my ever-changing and rapidly evolving life experience and those of my clients.

Vulnerability feels like a real sonofabitch paradox mostly because it is one. As Brene Brown has expounded, to be vulnerable means to open ourselves to be wounded or hurt. And who the hell wants that? When many people think of the word vulnerability, they might immediately think of a romantic relationship. They might think of opening their heart to a stranger and, hoping the lust would actually be real love, showed something tender and true about their physical or mental state and trusted it would be safe.

And then it wasn't.  

And that felt horrible so they fear being hurt again. Rejected. Humiliated. Demeaned. Disrespected. And any other similar kind of word for the experience of wanting to disappear in the hole in the floor. Let's also throw in invalidated, infantilized and invisibilized. Any of those unfamiliar? Stay with me, I'll explain. Because vulnerability extends far beyond romantic relationships. 

Who wants that experience of being hurt? Who would choose any of that on purpose? But the irony is, the more we avoid the hurt, the more hurt we become. What we seek to avoid, we experience in greater amounts. The more we try to protect ourselves, the more we bear the weight of a life half-lived. Instead of being vulnerable, or opening ourselves up to more hurt, we try more each day to cover and protect what feels ugly or uncomfortable or broken until each and every person becomes a threat. Colleagues, friends, family, strangers on the street, even trolls on social media! Even though we all know not to take trolls personally or seriously, we let them penetrate and puncture our wee hearts.

If it's something we all crave, why does it often feel so impossible to find or feel? 

The way I see it, vulnerability often feels impossible for these reasons:

1) People can't give you what they aren't giving themselves. This goes for most human beings because we can only give what we've been taught or have been given ourselves and that's all based on a limited range of what people of different identities actually need. Yes, we're all human and share the same underlying basic needs but there are also variations based on internal or external differences. Many people lack the self-awareness to know or the discipline necessary to fulfill their own needs. Don't fall for appearances of what it looks like people are doing or being or having. In fact, sometimes the flashier the show, the worse the actual conditions. The truth is, most people lack the capacity to face and deal with their own suffering and then here we come along, trying to get a little bit of airtime for our grievances. But you can't draw water from a dry well and it ends up making your thirst for validation and support even worse. You try to get support and see how everyone's clamoring for some wood to cling to, like the sinking scene in Titanic. For the most part, we're all Rose with no room for Jack. 

2) People really suck at listening. They just really do. Most conversation is two people competing to be heard so we spend more time waiting for the other person to take a breath so we can say, "yeah, and here's what's happening in my life," or "here's what I think about what you said" or "let me fix that for you" than we do listening to what's coming out of the person's mouth.

And even if we don't actually say it, we're thinking it. Often without even being AWARE of how much we're judging and assessing and filtering and wondering, we're hardly being present at all. Being a coach changed this about me over eight years, and not as quickly or as thoroughly as I'd prefer most days. But it's better than it was. 

People don't or can't listen for so many reasons so it often feels impossible to open up and share because there's no space for it. We can barely get a sentence out before someone's swooping in with some cliche bullshit or make it about them. There's relating and then there's hijacking the conversation to make it about them and the line is fine like spider twine. Most people lack the self-awareness to even know the difference. 

3) People patronize to maintain power. People seek to maintain control and have power to avoid feeling out of control. Being out of control means being vulnerable so some people determine other people to be less than to maintain a feeling of power and control. We experience this as momsplaining and mansplaining, both of which create a power differential that is neither pleasant nor supportive. Yes, women and men and folks of all genders in-between, are guilty of being patronizing to those they deem less than.

When all we need is to be heard, unsolicited advice lands as condescending and patronizing. And then, when we try to be vulnerable and express that it's occuring that way to us, those people respond with more defensiveness. Why? Because the advice is never really for us. It's to make the other person feel better. It's their need to control the conversation OR the feelings your pain is triggering within them. I didn't really experience momsplaining until I transitioned, or if I did I don't think I noticed it. My own mother didn't do it much, mostly because she hardly listens to what I say. See #1 and #2 above. And she, like most people, jumped to fixing or judging or invalidating whatever tender truth I was trying to share. So, this new experience of momsplaining feels incredibly gross to me, especially when I'm sharing from my own, fully-formed truth to inspire or encourage people as an adult and as a professional coach. When I share vulnerably from my life in my work or on social media, I'm not doing it because I seek validation or support. I'm doing it so other people don't feel alone. For so many reasons, people (mostly women) jump in and instead of sharing how they resonate with what I said or how it inspired them, like they do with male or female peers of mine, they write or say things to take care of me which would be so nice if it didn't publicly erode my credibility as a mature professional sharing vulnerably to help other people. Perhaps since vulnerability is so rare, especially coming from the mouths of men (or male-perceived individuals) women often jump in to save me from the perils of my own self-awareness. They infantilize me, projecting an image of their lost or lonely son onto me. My status of self-employed professional coach is smothered under their need to stop the bleeding, even though I'm happy to let it flow from my open heart. 

I can both appreciate their intentions and candidly name this is problematic behavior. This is one example but people of many different identities experience similar dynamics of being invalidated, infantilized or invisibilized by other people who seek to maintain some sort of power differential based on appearances, long-standing cultural norms and status. 

4) People just can't hold space. This is similar to listening, but it's what happens after we express ourselves. It's the moment when we've shared something and it isn't what people expected to hear, and what they do as a result. Holding space is about just being with whatever comes out of a person's mouth. It's a skill to develop because people often just need to say something that's true in a moment of time. It isn't an indictment of who we've always been or will forever be, but it's a realization or an epiphany or unearthed truth. And most people, because of the reasons I explained above, just can't hang for a second. The energy of such raw, honest self-awareness is rare and powerful and most people lack the capacity to hang out and be with it.

When we're vulnerable and we claim our voice and our power, it frightens people. The truth we share may be a bit more than they can bear because they rarely do this for themselves.

That's why it often feels impossible to be vulnerable. We open ourselves to be wounded and people swoop in and hurt us, unknowingly, from their own need to protect themselves. In their own attempt to hold up the dam, they attempt to slam the doors shut on our freedom and self-expression. 

These are a few reasons why it often feels impossible to be vulnerable and you can see it mostly involves coming up against the limitation of other people. It feels impossible because we have unrealistic expectations of other humans. We think they are less broken or fragile or inept than we are. We think they have it all together because they try to convince us of that or because we fantasize that they do.

It often feels impossible to be vulnerable because we measure our risk of opening up against our hopes of what people can hold and the reality of how few resources folks have hits us really hard. The hurt we feel is perhaps our realization and disappointment that none of us have as much to give as we all really need.

So we need to be vulnerable knowing this.

Being vulnerable knowing most others can't be is real freedom. When you can do it, it's pretty awe-inspiring.

It's what we all hope to feel and experience with another human being, the actual potential of vulnerability, the leaping and landing safely in the presence of another. 

And while it may feel impossible, it isn't. We just need more practice doing and being it with each other. And therein lies the rub.

Are you up to the project of learning how to be that safe place to land for yourself and others?

The reward is worth the work and heartache involved. Trust me.