Power Walks & Vulnerability

September 25, 2016

So, here’s the deal: Social work does not mess around.

I had a particularly difficult week, complete with two separate meltdowns – one to my mom and the other to my best friend. By Thursday, I was emotionally drained and mentally exhausted, and I was thankful that I did not have to go to work or my internship that day. “You just have to sit through class,” I kept telling myself. “This will be an easy day.”

It must have slipped my mind that I’m a social work major and we like to have the hard conversations.

And let me be clear: I hate vulnerability. 

“Have you ever heard of a power walk?” my professor asked the class. “Line up one one side of the classroom,” she instructed us, “and walk across the room when I say a statement that you identify with.”

I reluctantly stood up with my classmates, the majority of us rolling our eyes and checking the clock to see how much longer we would be trapped in this classroom.

I wasn’t too worried – I thought they would be easy statements akin to, “You hope to work with children, families, veterans, etc.” and “You played a sport in high school.” 

Oh no. That is not how social workers do this. We go straight to the heart-wrenching things we keep quiet about because we aren’t sure anyone else will understand. 

Walk across the room if you grew up poor.

Walk across the room if you, a family member, or a close friend is living with HIV/AIDS.

Walk across the room if you, a family member, or a close friend is part of the LGBTQ community.

Walk across the room if you have ever witnessed someone being ridiculed or abused, and did nothing.

Walk across the room if you, a family member, or a close friend is struggling or has struggled with substance abuse.

Walk across the room if you, a family member, or a close friend is or has been in jail for any length of time. 

Walk across the room if you were raised by a single parent. 

Walk across the room if you have ever been physically hurt or emotionally injured by another person. 

It was painful. It was hard. It was awkward at times. 

We were surprised. We were anxious. We were relieved. 

This experience was beautiful and amazing and unifying. Silently, I connected to people I never would have guessed in ways I never would have imagined.

I walked across the room with friends and we made eye contact, wondering how we never knew we had this connection. I walked across the room with immigrants from Somalia and China and Ghana and we gave each other small smiles, acknowledging that maybe we aren’t quite as different from one another as we may have thought.

I walked across the room and turned around to see the majority of the class staring back at me and felt even more connected to the few standing with me. 

I dare you to try a power walk and not cry. 

And I hated the entire beautiful thing because I hate vulnerability. I cannot stand it.

I’ve read enough Brene Brown to write my own book on vulnerability and shame, but I’m not sure I’ll ever understand myself enough to figure out how to actually embrace vulnerability in my own life. It’s scary, but it’s also the key to authenticity – and who doesn’t crave authenticity?

“I’m glad you have the same dark and twisted sense of humor as I do,” she said as we walked out the door. “That made that whole thing a lot less scary.” 

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. 

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead 

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