As an adult education instructor, I have the unique opportunity of learning the magic of vulnerability from the students I teach. With each and every class, the folks I meet begin expressing their fears on day one when we discuss our educational goals for the semester and beyond. In the 16 years I have been teaching adults, there has never been a class where a student hasn’t apologized for their reading and writing skills. It is humbling to have these words shared with me when I am still a stranger to them. My heart aches for them but also grows with admiration as they open up a world to me that they have be trying to hide for so many years.
This semester, I have a woman in one of my classes who, in my opinion, seemed to have something to prove to the world. She tried finishing my lectures and jumped on answering questions before I had finished asking them. I felt angry that she was trying to high-jack my class. But then, she amazed me with her strength as a person. She stayed after class to talk. She shared that in her native country she had learned English and felt very confident coming to the US knowing all aspects of the English language. Then she arrived and realized she doesn’t understand anyone speaking English except those who have the same accent as she does. She shared how frustrated she was with herself and asked for help. In that moment, she opened herself up to me as an entirely different person. By sharing her vulnerable side, I felt the tension I had towards her leave my body and all I wanted to do was help her.
When living with a chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), vulnerability is tough. By admitting to others that we are in physical/emotional pain or that we can no longer perform activities we once did with ease, we feel defeated. And, with time, we often let these insecurities build up until it is almost impossible to let our guard down. Many times we are even afraid to be vulnerable with ourselves, to let ourselves cry and experience the pain we feel inside. Admitting our true feelings, even to ourselves, can sometimes be too painful. But please know that by sharing fears, frustrations, and insecurities with others is the core of who we are as humans. It is how we grow and how we learn about ourselves and others. RA has been a good vulnerability teacher for me. Sometimes I am a good student but other times I resist. However, when I do finally let my guard down and share with others, I feel liberated. By acknowledging my vulnerable side, I am able to move on.
Brene Brown says, “What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” I believe this. Each time a student or fellow RA community member shares their story, I feel energized that I am not on this journey of life alone. I feel a stronger bond with those who allow me to see what is inside them, to really know them, and I hope others feel the same way about me.