My Comfort in Discomfort: The Effects of Embracing Vulnerability

Genevieve Jaser

© Copyright 2020 by Genevieve Jaser

Photo of a rainbow.

As I prepare to enter into my senior year of college, I was struck with a realization: upon my entry into college, I was happy and excited, but I was met with struggling students, worried peers, and unhappy people. When I arrived at my first-ever college class, I noticed 20 students, like zombies propped up in chairs. Is college really as boring as their faces led me to believe? Over the past three years, I have grown increasingly more consumed by my daily interactions with friends, academic peers, and strangers: no one seems truly happy. In an effort to figure out why, I reflected on my experience as a first-year college student, and conducted my own study, all while compiling national research and studies that indicate a lack of contentment in the average American citizen. Knowing this, I felt it was necessary to examine how we got to be a society of such disheartened individuals – thus, came the birth of “My Comfort in Discomfort: The Effects of Embracing Vulnerability”.
Open up. I never had an issue doing so, until I realized that “opening up” doesn’t mean be more comfortable. It means, be more vulnerable. 
Staring into the eyes of my new professor at a new school in a new town, I took a breath, and then I spoke, “I’m Genevieve, and I took this class to learn more about well-being and how to nurture our bodies and minds.” It sounded like a staged opening line to a meditation club. 
I had signed myself up for a wellness class my first semester in college, but despite my excitement, I started to realize what was around me. I looked around and saw people, all my own age, slumped in chairs like ragdolls. Most of their eyes were half-shut and I saw yawns around the room. They probably got placed here by chance and now we are all in this big room with small windows telling the professor why we're stoked to be here. 
The truth was I had been looking forward to this class. And, I liked that there were windows, even if they were a little small. Everyone looked bored and unengaged. So, slouching down into my seat, I began to consciously change the emotions I wore on my face, because I felt embarrassed showing my real feelings. Instead, I mimicked.  
Wellness would end up being my favorite class and by the end of that semester, I had made a final video about choosing your attitude towards others and ultimately, towards life. But, due to my own self-consciousness, I felt the need to act as if I didn’t care in the classroom in order to avoid feeling vulnerable. If I was happy and engaged, I would stand out as being different from everyone else. And, I didn’t want that. So, I started to act the way I saw other people acting. I acted “normal”. And by “normal”, I mean uninterested and unaware. 
This instance is like one of the many that we’ve had and have every day. We all do it. No one wants to look like the odd-man-out. We want to belong. When we pretend together, we feel cool.
And, most of the time, when we look around, everyone looks miserable. So, we do the same. 
But, what’s the point in this? Fitting in to be unhappy? I don’t dig it. 
According to Shana Lebowitz, each new generation is happier than the ones that came before it. There are numerous that studies claim people are happier than ever, boasting that global happiness is on the rise. Yet, in the nine-year history of the happiness poll, the world happiness report shows that the highest happiness index was 35%. This means that at our best, only 35% of Americans reported being happy, so even if we are getting happier little by little, well over half of us simply are not there yet.
Does this mean we don’t value happiness?
In a study I conducted, 80% of people said happiness was very important to them. We want to be happy, but when we aren’t, we settle for unhappiness. Perhaps we don’t know how to reach the golden state of mind. 
The happiness we do feel is often superficial. We feel happy after someone compliments our hair, or if we feel welcomed into a new group of friends. Not only are these only temporary moments of happiness, but they are instances where we feel liked and noticed by others, and that’s what allows us to feel as though we deserve a pat on the back. 
These moments feel so good that we’ve become a society almost completely reliant on happiness that is supplied from others. We don’t do things for ourselves, even when we tell ourselves we are. Oftentimes, we do things like take a job offer that pays well, or buy an expensive car, or even buy brand named clothes, for the status we will have once we own such things. 
We want the jealous looks and we have learned to crave this fake affection from others because it feels good to look like a caricaturized version of ourselves to others. Really, we just look like assholes. 
Underneath it all, we often aren’t truly confident with certain attributes that we possess, whether it be our nervousness, the size of our ears, or our low-paying job. So, instead of embracing these things, we cover them up, and ignore them, instead focusing on the parts of ourselves that we do like, and we work to make these superficial parts of ourselves even better. 
This façade creates a bad kind of vulnerable.  We are uncomfortable with certain parts of our self, so we run as far as we can from them. We then define vulnerability as this embarrassing weakness, which over 40% of participants in my study thought it was. 
One survey participant defined vulnerability as this: “You’re not a weak person but you’re in a weak position”. True. The state of being vulnerable feels like weakness. In fact, a temporary discomfort in feeling raw and open, you’re not supposed to love it. 
The challenge comes in knowing the discomfort is necessary in order to be happy. 
We have to make the choice to be a good kind of vulnerable. It may feel like weakness, but it doesn’t mean to be weak. Instead, it is where we are aware of our fears: rejection, judgements, misunderstandings—and yet we choose to put ourselves out there, without any mask.
We must rid of our barriers and allow ourselves to live as ourselves, not just the muted and morphed parts that we feel fit better with the rest. We’re become good at hiding our real selves.  People can’t hurt you if they don’t know you. And, we’re playing defense.
People don’t like feeling out of place. The truth is that it’s become unfamiliar and weird to act honestly. 
What we’re not understanding is simple:  it’s time to start redefining vulnerability. The most difficult part: we’re losing our soul, and it’s time to get it back.

Genevieve Jaser is a Junior at Southern Connecticut State University, studying English and Communication. Throughout her academic experience, she has taken on numerous creative projects centered around the human experience, hoping to evoke emotional response and universal feelings through film, writing, and art. She hopes that others, like herself, may continue to expand their self-awareness, and channel uncomfortable emotions through different mediums in order to find connection and understanding with others.

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