“Do I look pretty enough,” I asked, earnestly, before my friend took the picture. With a flip of ringlet hair and a roll of her golden eyes, both glinting in the low afternoon sun, she swore to me, twice, that I looked great. Just to be sure, I grabbed the phone and thumbed through two, or ten, shots until I found the one where I looked the least worn out.
That’s all I wanted: to look pretty. Pretty meant strength. Pretty meant control. Pretty meant resilience. So, in tired attempt to polish my slightly cracked veneer, I pulled on my favorite turquoise dress, hung jewels from my ears and colored my lips ruby red – my war paint; my shield.
A little more than 24 hours earlier, I was in a much less glamourous getup: a paper-thin, purple polka dot gown with a peekaboo pocket for my bum (say that five times fast), about to undergo another spine surgery. By the time I posed for this picture, my body was exhausted and my mind was even more frustrated. But I didn’t dare let anyone know my true struggle. I carried on, caring for myself as best I could, pushing past pain and slowly moving towards healing.
I am stubborn as hell and prideful to boot. More than that, I’m scared shitless to be vulnerable and ask for the care and support I need. Vulnerability — the purest form of our humanity — is messy, confusing and downright terrifying. My aversion to it is suffocating fear that the amount of love and understanding I am given is in direct response to my ability to be perfect.
But love, when it’s real and unconditional, is without measurement and perfection is a myth.
Our culture — magnified and perpetuated though social media’s distorted view of reality and the accompanying narrative we force ourselves to memorize — demands more success and less failure, bolded strength and quieted vulnerability, highlighted happiness and hushed hardships. True humanity is veiled, hidden behind carefully facilitated facades.
What happens when we find ourselves at the bottom of life’s steep hills, looking up at daunting terrain, in need of help navigating the way forward. It is hopeful to wish that we would all be brave enough to reach out to our networks, those people who look at us through the lens’ of compassion and forgiveness, granting us strength when we need it most.
But it seems many of us, myself included, are programmed to only speak up and share when gratitude and thankfulness run deep, when plans are unfolding exactly the way we drew them, and when the universe is playing perfectly in time and in tune with the songs of our hearts. But when we are steeped in struggle, our thankful hearts fill with fear and we forget to reach out, connect and focus on the gift of simply inhaling and exhaling — of thinking and feeling — of giving and receiving — of being alive.
Dare to live more authentically.
When we are daring enough to come face-to-face with our struggles and shortcomings; the moments we may feel broken, but are most beautifully human, these are the moments we learn the most about ourselves. It is in the deep, unsettling fog of hardship when our tenacity, bravery, and general badassery are once again clearly revealed. And when we allow others to come in close and join us on our journey, we have power to teach one of life’s greatest lessons: we are in this together and never alone.
Maybe you are dancing freely to the steady beat of success, with your arms outstretched and your face turned to the sun, fearlessly inviting what’s to come. But perhaps the skies you’re under appear a little darker now; you’re slowly treading water, barely keeping your head above the waves long enough to catch your shaky breath and release tension living deep within your tired muscles.
Whatever your experience, be brave and bare, invite your loved ones to lean in with you. Ask for a dance partner. Grab hold of a helping hand. Seek out a listening ear. Fall into a loving embrace, trusting that you will be caught – and lifted up, out of darkness and onto a lighted path.
We chase independence and celebrate the supposed strength it builds and the character that it creates. There is no denying that the practice of getting to know ourselves intimately and finding peace with who we are, where we are frees us to live more genuinely, discovering greater joy in the simplest moments. But the deepest, truest desires of humanity is to make meaningful impact, to make our unique imprint stick and stand out. This magic only happens when we are willing to freefall into authentic, unveiled connections with others.
Maybe then — when we realize we aren’t meant to go at it alone and it’s more than okay to put the weight of our struggles on the shoulders of those who love us the deepest and whose support is the strongest — the road of life, with its twists, turns, dips and detours, will be just a little easier to travel.
Whatever it is for you – lipstick, laughter, or maybe lingering silence – let down your shield and wash off your war paint. Dare to live authentically. Dare to be seen and heard, exactly as you are. If you need them—people who help you feel the safest and most secure —let your loved ones be needed. I guarantee you: they’ll show up. Ready and willing to stand with you at the edge of the road, moving instep wherever it leads.