If you haven’t seen the Ted Talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability I highly recommend that you watch it here. The video has amassed over 27 million hits on you tube, putting words to what a lot of us feel but are unable to say, the precarious dance between vulnerability and shame, the two very different sides of the same coin.
It was exactly four years ago, on a wintery November day that I received a letter from the Canadian Charities Directorate confirming that Freedom Tree had received its charitable status. In the months preceding I had pontificated on whether to embark on this journey and start a non-profit organization. I wrestled with the decision all summer long, despite my longing to make a difference and do something to change the situation I had seen in Sierra Leone of women dying needlessly. Its funny, you long for something for so long but when faced with the choice to take it, the reality is often daunting.
For eight long months I would wake up each morning with a resolve; one day I was the warrior woman full of zeal and passion that would fight for the rights of women and children in a society where their voice was not heard, with glorified images reminiscent of Joan of Arc. The next day I was scared to my core, wondering what on earth I had been thinking the day before. Who was I, unqualified and unknown to do something about such a massive issue. I have to confess; most days I felt like the latter… deeply afraid of what could be. But despite that my passion won over reason, and I jumped in with both feet in and submitted the application for Freedom Tree.
At the start of the journey four years ago I remember distinctly anticipating my costs. Like the well trained accountant I am I calculated everything this endeavour would cost me right up front and tried to eliminate the unknown. I expected hard work, perseverance, tenacity, growth, financial discipline. Those things I am no stranger to, they actually come easy to me thanks to my upbringing and my family who model this for me. What I was unprepared for though was that the journey would require so much of my heart and vulnerability that I would feel like I was walking around naked most of the time; completely exposed and discombobulated.
Over time I have attempted to unravel my heart from this precarious mission, hoping that it would make things easier. But its near impossible, for how do you keep your heart from getting entwined when the very essence of the vision is the liberation of hearts and lives to live freely? How do you rationalize a cause that is a matter of life and death? How do you remain professional and pull yourself together when you close your eyes at night and all you see is the images of injustice that haunt and drive you? Sometimes it all becomes so overwhelming that I feel like running away from it all. And I do. I hide behind a flurry of activity and perfect spreadsheets to mask the inadequacy I feel.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of highs on this four-year journey, I am astounded at how much progress we have made, the many lives that have been saved, communities transformed and the people, oh those precious people (you know who you are) who have been foolhardy enough to join the movement and believe in the cause.
But its the unexpected revealing experiences along the way that confront me like that large pimple that shows itself defiantly in my bathroom mirror. Regardless of how hard I try no concealer can camouflage my growing discomfort at the depth of vulnerability this has cost me, paying a price I really could never afford. I cannot hide the mounting tension between my relentless drive and the herculean task ahead. Nor can I deny the tension between my overwhelmingly unfamiliar need for people, and my increasing sensitivity to their evaluations.
Some precious gifts along the way; I have grown more acquainted with failure and have learned to savour it. Failure is a great teacher, if you are able to embrace the lesson and dispel the identity of failure. I have this grace for others I never knew I could have; these days I find it near impossible to criticize anyone who even attempts anything remotely courageous as I recognize all too easily their own unique dance between vulnerability and shame.
In her book ‘Daring Greatly’, Brené harkened back to a speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910. In it, Roosevelt said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
And so I continue, four years on. Even more unsure today than when I started and very much less in control than the day I began. Albeit moving forward, sometimes strolling, sometimes running, oftentimes crawling and even sometimes being carried along in the current of the people movement toward the end goal:
The Eradication of Maternal and Infant Mortality in West Africa.