The False Lessons Society Teaches About Vulnerability, Failure, and Happiness
In recent years, there seems to be an awakening around the false lessons taught by society. These false lessons, some of which have been common narratives for over a century, spread messages that make it difficult to successfully navigate one’s way through life. Three of these prominent false lessons are centered around vulnerability, failure, and happiness.
For the first forty-five years of my life, I believed the false lessons that society taught me, and I suffered the consequences. When I started training to be a health and mindset coach, and started learning about the power of coaching, it became clear that most of these lessons lead to disconnections, both from the self and from others.
First, society teaches us that vulnerability is a form of weakness, and a sure-fire way to get attacked or shamed. Second, society teaches us that failure is a dead-end that is full of shame and self-doubt. Third, society teaches us that happiness is something that we likely can’t have right now; it’s waiting for us in the future, if, and only if, we accomplish certain things. Why not teach the opposite of these lessons and help people find their way?
Why not teach that vulnerability requires courage, and that it’s better to be vulnerable and accepting of who we are than to base being “good enough” on the opinions of others? Why not teach that failure is nothing more than a learning experience, as we’re able to use what we learn from failure to try again with a new approach? Why not teach that happiness is within us, regardless of our circumstances, and that it’s rooted in accepting who we are (shortcomings and all), in being grateful for what we have, and in finding joy in the simple things in life?
It’s now clear that connections, both with ourselves, and with others, are critical elements in living a fulfilled life. When connections are genuine, vulnerability stops feeling like a bullseye on our chests, failure stops turning us into failures, and happiness stops dwelling just out of reach.
Vulnerability Isn’t Weakness, It’s Courage
In years past, vulnerability was never an option from my perspective because I was already fearful, insecure, and lonely. Society’s false lessons about vulnerability taught me that expressing it was a sign of weakness, directly opposing the truth that it’s born from courage.
After years of bullying and mental abuse in my youth, I spent most of my adult life insecure about my place in the world. These insecurities made me feel exposed to lurking negativity, rejection, and criticism, at all times, so I thought I had to be armored against these inevitable attacks. Further, since vulnerability is the gateway to being authentic and genuine, my fear of expressing it had me locked behind thick bars of insecurity that I thought were “protecting” me. I didn’t know of any other way to live, and I didn’t know anyone who exemplified the fact that being vulnerable results in freedom.
Directly related to my irrational fear of the risks that vulnerability represented, I used to think I had to be a separate version of myself in different settings, always wearing one of my many “masks,” just so I could fit in. I was using the “happy-and-content mask” around family, using the “party-mode mask” around friends, and using the “confident-and-sure-of-myself mask” around people I didn’t know. Although my “masks” often displayed a smile, I wasn’t happy, and I never felt like I truly belonged anywhere, or with anyone, especially when I was deserting my true self in trying to fit in. I sought validation through wearing these different “masks”, each one was a little white lie, or an exaggeration, or even a full-fledged fear-based deception.
Perhaps worse, I lied to myself even more than I lied to others; transparency and honesty with myself were utterly terrifying. All this dishonesty was my way of trying to keep others from believing what I already believed about myself. I believed horrible things like “I’m not good enough,” “No one likes me,” “I don’t belong,” “My feelings don’t matter,” and “I’m not important.”
I used to ignore the part of me that wanted to be vulnerable, honest, transparent, genuine, and authentic in relationships, in communication, in self-image, and in how I viewed the world. This part of me was actually the real me, in whole, begging to be set free, but my insecurities and limiting beliefs kept me living the way I was “supposed to live.” In short, I understood vulnerability as well as an earthworm understands calculus.
It’s now clear that I don’t need to fear, or to hide, the things that simply make me human, like being imperfect, seeing the world through a unique lens, and wanting to create, to love, to pursue a purpose, to have a voice, and to seek meaningful connections. It’s also clear that the limiting beliefs I held onto for several decades were never true.
Failure is Part of Every Journey, Not Just a Dead End
I used to think I had to have guarded vaults of facts about the real me locked away so tightly, a locksmith couldn’t open them. What was I going to do, just let my short-comings and failures get out there where someone could use them against me? Not…a…chance! This led me to believe I shouldn’t even try things that might end up in failure, like trying something new, introducing myself to people I didn’t know, taking calculated risks, or stepping outside my comfort zone.
On the flip-side, I thought I had to broadcast and brag about any and all accomplishments as a way of beating down the list of beliefs I had about myself, and to gain lots of empty, useless, and fleeting validation wherever I could. I thought that if I gained enough of this meaningless validation, I was less likely to be viewed as a failure.
Additionally, I used to think that criticism and judgements from others mattered, so I always took them personally, as utter failures. It’s now clear that negativity and judgements from others are reflections of their insecurities, not of my failures. It’s also clear that in all situations, I will either succeed or I will learn, because failure is nothing more than an opportunity to learn something new, and try again with better information.
Happiness is Within Us, Not Out There Somewhere
Happiness has always been a confusing subject for me. Those who appeared happy to me in my youth were only happy in appearance. Over time, I learned that behind the scenes, they were anything but happy. To this day, when I hear people talking about happiness, it’s almost always discussed as the result of something not yet part of their lives. I was never more than fleetingly grateful for what I had because I was never taught the value of being grateful; it was what I lacked that grabbed my focus and attention. Understanding the connection between gratitude and happiness evaded me until just a few years back. This was because I was taught, through many similar messages, that happiness relates to status and possessions. It’s now clear how closely connected gratitude and happiness are, and how lost I was in thinking that happiness can only be found outside what I already have.
Contrary to popular belief, happiness is essentially a choice to be made, based in gratitude, not the result of either acquiring things we don’t have, or being somewhere we’re not, or finding a soulmate, or getting a great job, or any of the other disconnected sources of happiness people have been taught to believe in. This is shown in cases where people who seem to have everything are just as unhappy as those who seem to have nothing. The choice to be happy, regardless of circumstance, is both simple to make, and difficult to make. It’s now clear that happiness was always within me, waiting to come to life when I finally made the decision to stop chasing it and to start choosing it.
Looking back at my actions in the past, it’s clear that I felt I had to escape my unfulfilling reality so I could at least be happy while escaping. In retrospect, escaping never made me happy, it just helped me briefly forget the emptiness of my life. These frequent escapes took the form of substance use and/or abuse. Another way to escape was in forcing my imagination to take me away from this world through reading books, watching movies, and playing video games. I strongly desired to live a different life; I would think things like “just drop me off on the Avatar movie planet and I’ll be good.” I put vast amounts of energy into escaping reality instead of into improving my life. I chose escape over improvement because I didn’t know how to improve my life, and I wasn’t aware of any examples to follow. It’s now clear that there are limitless benefits associated with self-improvement and self-love, including the fact that self-improvement fosters happiness.
After decades of struggling to just survive in life, I found myself being led around by untrue and misleading mindsets learned from the many false lessons that society teaches. I thought I was doomed to feel stuck in “autopilot survival mode” forever. When I started to learn how to grow as a person, I was propelled down a new and exciting path. The path eventually led to my purpose as a health and mindset coach, of helping others overcome challenges, and live their lives feeling free instead of stuck. Following this new path has been challenging, rocky, and incredibly rewarding. Very simply, helping people find happiness in their lives fills me with gratitude and makes me happy in turn.
If you find it difficult to find happiness, to embrace vulnerability, and to stop fearing failure, because of lessons learned from society, I hope these words inspire you to look at these things from a different perspective. Discovery could be closer to home than you may have been led to believe. Vulnerability, success, and happiness might just be deep down inside you, begging to come out.