My friend Jodie has a special tattoo on her foot. It’s a pink ribbon with the phrase “Words Are Power,” and the initials RBS for Robin B. Spangler.
I did not know Mrs. Spangler before she passed away from breast cancer, but I do know many of her students. That phrase, one I’m told the former English teacher used often, has always struck a chord with me.
Sometimes find the right words, the right way to say what I feel, can change everything. It may be a single word, or an entire book, but vocabulary nonetheless has a powerful influence on our lives.
Last week, I met with Jean Wise for an interview. For once, I was the one being questioned and not the other way around. Jean was writing about my weight loss and running journey as part of some health and wellness pages in The Times coming this week.
Jean and I could have chatted forever, about weight loss, work, life, the Buckeyes — anything. But what struck me at one point was a single word: vulnerability.
I was discussing how I was still uncomfortable with my body, even after losing 100 pounds. It’s hard when people stare at me, even if it’s for a good reason. And it’s hard to really open up about weight loss and the changes I’ve experienced. I feel like I am exposing myself, and my body, for judgement, I told her.
“You’re feeling vulnerable,” she replied.
Yes, vulnerable. That’s the word I’ve been needing to hear for quite sometime.
We talked more and I told her how words inspired much of my journey. I repeat “Never say never” and “limitless” quite often.
But vulnerable has been resonating with me since that interview.
As I left Jean, who didn’t realize her coffee shop conversation would turn into an entire column, I told her the word vulnerable was still sticking out in my head. She said she experiences the same thing and often picks a word for the year to help her focus her life. It’s sort of like having a resolution, only there really isn’t a concrete goal, just a direction.
At Jean’s suggestion, I looked up Brené Brown, a researcher, author and speaker, who gave a TED talk on the power of vulnerability. Thanks to YouTube, I watched Brown’s talk online and learned that vulnerability does not have to carry a negative connotation as it so often does in our society.
Basically, she teaches when we are most vulnerable is when we can find the most reward. Vulnerability allows us to live wholeheartedly and courageously.
I nodded along silently as she spoke. Brown explained the concept in a way I hadn’t heard before. Or maybe I had heard it before but just couldn’t understand it. Either way, her words were powerful, speaking to me in the way Jodie’s tattoo speaks to her.
Words really are power.
So as I’ve turned this word over and over in my head, I’ve come to realize I can find strength in my own vulnerability. Or, greater yet, I can give others strength in my vulnerability.
Jean sent in her story just after our interview and I was very flattered by her words. But then my vulnerability started to creep in.
Though I promise I will let the article run, without any editing by me, I was very tempted to add in disclaimers like, “She may run every day but she lets her laundry sit in baskets for weeks” or “She doesn’t count the points when she eats an entire bag of tortilla chips in two days.”
I felt like her story put me on a pedestal that I was not worthy to be standing upon. She was making me out to be an inspiration when really I’m just another human being with lots of flaws and faults you can’t see in a “before and after” picture.
Basically, I think Jean’s story, though very well written, leaves me vulnerable. But I’m hoping that by sharing my story, by putting it all out there, someone will be inspired to start their own journey.
Maybe they’ll take a run for the first time, or just start a walking routine.
Or maybe they’ll find this column, too, and know that even though I’ve found the motivation to run a half marathon, I still haven’t found the motivation to fold my clothes more than once a month. I’m not perfect.
My own words, along with Jean’s, will hopefully create a power all their own. And despite my insecurities and imperfections, I’m willing to give into my vulnerability and explore where it can take me.