“What is it?” I exclaimed, in a high pitched, exaggerated, I’m so proud of you voice.
“It’s a heart — with a fence!” he said.
At first, I did feel proud, “That’s my boy,” I thought. His artwork dripping with symbolism is definitely above and beyond the pre-k status quo.
Then I went dark, “Is this his four-year-old way of observing and processing my dysfunction?”
Ironically, my son François, fits the French stereotype and already seems to have a “way with the ladies.”
Every time I pick him up from school, at least one of his classmates runs up to him and gives him a big hug.
I’ve seen him reject a few little girls who asked permission first. He is a big-hearted kid, but I observe that like most of us, he has no problem throwing up a fence.
This morning I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking about hearts and fences.
It occurred to me that fences don’t just keep bad things out and good things in. Fences keep bad things in and good things out.
It’s easy to talk about hearts and fences when it comes to our “personal lives” because vulnerability as a goal with family and friends is trendy.
The problem is, many of us spend most of our time at work. And a heart without a fence in the workplace, “professional vulnerability” makes us run away like a 4-year-old little boy running from kudies.
It’s true that fences around our heart serve a purpose at work, but it’s also true that those same fences inhibit truly creative output that can only be a result of messy authenticity—telling our truth and listening to the truth of our co-workers.
The painful part of being vulnerable at work is that contrary to vulnerability in our personal lives, there is an expectation that “professional vulnerability” should be just enough to make you seem authentic but not so much that you get labeled cuckoo. The problem with this metered approach is that vulnerability by its very definition, “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt,” implies risk. Either you’re vulnerable or you’re not. And if you’re only poolside dipping your toe in the water of vulnerability, you’ll never swim. True vulnerability is sink or swim, not sitting on the sidelines and letting others jump in first.
The image above, of my son, Francois, is a picture of him the day he almost drowned by jumping into the deep end. I pulled him out (with assistance), helped him cough up the water, let him catch his breath, wrapped him in a towel and sat with him for a few minutes, holding him tight.
Then I took him back in the water.
Have you almost drowned because you decided to jump in the deep end at work and you weren’t quite ready to swim, much less tread the waters of vulnerability?
It’s ok. Now you know the power of being you.
My son naively jumped in, panicked and resisted.
Buoyancy is proportional to our level of familiarity, fear and resistance.
Almost drowning doesn’t mean you won’t ever swim.
Go. Get back in.