Vulnerability Amongst Strangers

This past summer I decided to reach out to random people that I knew, mostly on Facebook, and asked them to talk to me for 30 minutes around the question:

“If you could have one question answered about your life, present or future, what would it be?”

Now, I have to admit, my original goal was to talk to 30 people in 30 days. Is it an excuse if I said that I decided to do this near the end of the school year and my kids were just getting out for summer? Or maybe I'll just say I meant to only talk to 8 people....

Whatever the reason. I spoke with eight people. A couple of these I see out and about regularly, one I hadn't talked to since graduating college and then everything in between.

I can't say this was the most comprehensive study ever done. Actually, I can say it is probably one of the least... though, since it was done for me bourne out of my own curiousity, I get to make up the rules.

And what surprised me, even in my very limited comparison mode, was how I couldn't have guessed how one person would answer the above question.

There was the recently divorced woman who had no interest in having any question of her future answered. She believes life is to be lived in the now and lives by the motto “You can't explore new oceans without jumping off the shore. Don't swim, don't paddle, don't row, just float. Knowing that you will be lifted up and carried where you need to go.” Actually, I'm pretty sure she contributed this quote to a mutual friend, but it was a motto that carries her forward and one I feel like we could all embrace a little more often.

I spoke with two women – both in the middle of a transformative life change with big dreams and a strong desire to help others. Both wanting to know how to see the stepping stones clearly to make their big visions come true. Which I think tied to a second question one of the women had which is “how can I truly love myself more deeply?”. I find that women, in the service industry especially, are so used to giving that they can have a difficult time turning that love back onto themselves.

An alpha male who has spent the majority of his life defending others, and in the process hurt some people, is now trying to find peace in his world. He has suffered PTSD and has helped others come to terms with their own PTSD and questions how others view him. This is a man who has seen a lot of life and it would be easy to be scared of him, but inside he wants to connect with others, to share his vulnerability and show others that he is human with the same set of emotions that everyone else has. He's trying to make the exterior view of him match the interior, but it is such a new role, he is unsure of how it sits upon him and how it compares to the mark he has made on his life.

A woman with a transgender teenager just wants to know that her son will be OK. That he will be supported and loved outside of the home. Her fear of sending her son out into a world that might not understand him, nor be kind to him, that he won't be able to support himself and fears for what his future will look like. And though she loves and completely supports her son, there is grieving for the daughter, and the future of her daughter, that is no more.

The ultra-liberal, tatooed and alternative male who was raised in a very conservative religious family and has pulled so far away, but deep down wants to know “What if they are right?” He thinks of all that he has done in his life, how he has found his own moral compass but one that necessarily doesn't align with the Christian views he was raised with. And if “they” are right, “they” who have tried to convince him of what he has discarded as false, what does that mean for himself, his wife and his children in the next life?

The 18 year old homeless woman who has spent the last three months in a homeless shelter with her seven month old baby and boyfriend who is on disability. She dreams of being a nurse and wants to know if she can make that dream a reality, to be able to ease the hurt of others.

And lastly, the woman who wants to know if she will ever love her adopted child. She, who is dedicated to coming out of the closet on the difficulties of adoption and drop the facade that everything is always perfect. In the process, she hopes to find love not only for her child, but for the woman that she has become, the one who feels broken and bitter and angry and lost, though to view her you would think she strong, creative, dependable and loving.

Most of these people, have beautiful lives. They post happy family shots, vacations, concerts, dining out and inspirational quotes to help you feel good about your life. But what we don't ever see is what is bubbling under the surface – the reality of life, the questions of how we feel inadequate or lost or confused. The comparison we sometimes feel when we look at others and see perfection but can't find it within ourselves.

Seven of the eight were in the process of making a career change.

All eight had children.

Three had been divorced, two of which within the past five years.

Four spoke more than one language fluently.

One had been in the military.

Two live in a foreign country.

All eight, if you were to meet them, you could make assumptions based on their smile, how they dress, what kind of car they drive, or what neighborhood they live in. But what you wouldn't know – unless you were to ask, is what is beyond the surface, what makes them tick, what scares them and what inspires them to think about tomorrow.

The only catch is, if you want to get beyond the surface with someone, you usually have to be the one to be vulnerable and share first....

Jessica McClure