Is Vulnerability Worth It?

Being open and authentic in a world that is still afraid of being real.

Chanelle Henry
8 min readOct 1, 2017

For the past two years, I have been quiet. Emotionally constipated. Verbally shut off and shut out. Ever since I left my corporate job that was falsely “safe” and slightly “cushiony”, I have been living as a cashflow negative (I will never use the word broke because of the meaning behind it) grad student at Duke University’s Divinity school, wondering why and how I made this change in the first place. Starting a school with such openness and vulnerability that was helping to build my brand on the “outside” ended up costing me social points in a very sensitive school that operates a lot like Big Brother. You need to make alliances, stay away from the deemed “outsiders”, don’t shine too much, and try not to get voted out. These rules seem to apply in a lot of places.

I suck at social games.

Besides being an avid follower of Brené Brown and using my talks as a platform to merge tech and authenticity, I was one who had always had issues with filters and boundaries being a person on the spectrum.

I learned at a young age to turn problems into opportunities or purposeful flaws, and to laugh at myself first before anyone else could. I didn’t know that I was setting myself up to be safe in a world that would hurt continuously and confuse me most days. Being late diagnosed with Aspergers (now considered Autism 1) at the late age of 31, is not an uncommon thing, but it still uncommon to have treatment that actually works or to stave off the ignorant comments of: “You don’t look autistic.”

[insert eye roll here]

Hence, I’m now learning Boundaries 101, Self Care 101, but taking a grad level course in Hypocrisy. The duality in me causes me to feel like a hypocrite when I’m able to help others come out of the same mess that I’m going through. It’s slightly unfair, but again, it’s a problem that I’ve turned into a standup routine, I just haven’t made it on the stage again to share it.

I decided to go to Duke to take a couple years away from “reality”. That was a funny joke I told myself, as it ended up being a decision of pain, exclusion, and a reworking of ideals that shaped my identity and would continue to shape me as I would relearn how to navigate in a politically and racially charged community at Duke Divinity. Having had this unfair treatment while at my old job, to where I never received a raise and was laughed at when I told them that Google wanted to hire me but I wanted to stay loyal to them, I started to realize that people really aren’t looking out for my best interest (Duh!). Not even in a school that is supposed to be inclusive, working together to figure out the problems and possible solutions of a hurting world would help as it turns out the people are more divided, indirectly cruel, and just down right rude.

It got so bad, that I ended up doing a Dear White People approach to the problem, and titled it: Dear Christian People (no disrespect Justin Simien, you have inspired the creative beast in me — please hire me as a writer). It starts as a rant that I hope to refine as I continue with my adventures as of this writing, I am 7 months away from obtaining my Masters Degree and getting out of Durham and back into the real (and more directly mean) world. However, this “rant” does share some of my disdain towards my own theological upbringing/brainwashing (thanks Leah Remini for your show on Scientology that has opened up the minds and thoughts of people in other damaging theological practices — none quite as severe as Scientology) and ways that I feel we can solve it. Because what’s the point of complaining if you aren’t going to be part of the solution? However, I started to review the amount of vulnerability I shared not only in this rant, but in my first year at the Div school to come to an understanding of the amount of anxiety that I’m experiencing this year, and the stress is making me sick, literally.

I started to question if this “vulnerability” was even worth it. What’s the point? People will attack you, pretend to be your friend, use you, have things to say about you, walk on egg shells, exclude you, blame you, why is this worth it???

Because it is.

Here’s why:

Is life really worth it if you can’t be you yourself?

Seriously, who else are you going to be if you are going to pretend to be someone you aren’t. You’re going to be a fraud, and since we are already frauds, you might as well be the kind of fraud that you can be proud of looking at in the mirror. At this point one can literally be confident in being who they are, because like attracts like, and it’s good to be around those who will challenge you and accept you.

Usually attributed to Dr. Seuss, but he added on to Bernard M. Baruch’s original quote.

You could be saving a life.

There are many times that I got emails, notes, phone calls, texts, or people coming up to me after a talk — when I thought I flopped because I cried or talked about that one time I ended up in a mental clinic because of burnout, and I was told that I saved a life.

I will never forget the time that I spoke at SXSW Edu and Jeffrey Tambor gave the keynote: Performing Your Life in the Classroom. It changed my life. One thing he said that erased the harmful words of an ex about me being “too open” was to never hide who you are or shut yourself up because of what people say, you never know who’s life you will be saving. Now as for me, I’d rather listen to the guy who is killing it right now being transparent in Transparent, than my ex who is doing God knows what. In the end, that advice saved me and allowed me to truly live out my purpose and not be afraid of the “perceived” repercussions. Remember, as Jay-Z said, “Everybody can tell you how to do it, but they never did it.” I’m listening to those who have done it.

From SXSWEdu 2014 — Sadly this is only 1/3 of the talk!

What people think about you is none of your business.

When I first learned of this quote last year, you would have thought Oprah Winfrey came to my door and handed me the title of screenwriter for her shows on OWN (this is something I’d actually wish would happen, just putting it out there!!!), but instead I was met with a freedom that I could be myself, and whatever anyone thought, really wasn’t my concern.

Jerry Seinfeld and Wale had a conversation around this as well when Wale was trying to explain why Twitter hecklers made him disappointed and questioning himself. Jerry answered in one statement saying: “what people think about you, has nothing to do with you at all…” It’s a great interview that needs to be watched by all. I freakin love Jerry, but he doesn’t care. As he shouldn’t.

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen…Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ― Brené Brown

The first thing I thought of was always being too weak when I would show people my cards. Even the 48 Laws of Power teaches you to keep things quiet and to yourself, but for some reason, the laws that I was reading, weren’t warming my heart, but actually making me feel cold, distant, and then eventually depressed. Every day I would walk into the school, or even my job I would sign into Chatter (I worked remotely thank God), and I would be truthful and courageous despite the rumors, the lies being told, the whispers, the eye rolls, but at the end, I would eventually see the fruits of my labor. It may have taken awhile, but I feel more alive now than ever, even though I have fewer “friends.”

There is something powerful in just showing up, and allowing ourselves to shine through, and there is nothing weak about it. That’s why there are very few who stand in this category and we would consider them strong without thinking twice, so why can’t we think the same of ourselves?

“What happens when people open their hearts? ….they get better.” ― Haruki Murakami

Lack of sleep. Stress. Sickness. Depression. Anxiety. We are more sick now with chronic pain illnesses, especially in the younger cohort, than we were maybe 30–40 years ago. That’s a problem. If you paid attention to my words above and to previous blog posts, you will see that I am even a victim to mainstream messages of being closed, getting caught up in distractions *cough* social media, Tinder, etc… *cough*, that have caused these things to manifest into incurable diseases such as lupus, fibromyalgia, and other illnesses that I haven’t mentioned. But what happens when we open our hearts.

What happens when we connect with others instead of staying isolated and fearful? We become more healthy, we feel like there are more reasons to live and we use them, we start to do the things that build us up rather than keep us stuck.

So is vulnerability worth it?

Damn right it is, I know that if I live any other way, I’m more prone to suicidal thoughts, deeper depression, and a feeling of “why am I here”. It’s worth it because my relationships are richer, more authentic, and less surface.

It’s worth it because, the greater the risk the greater the reward, and I can see that in the face of my little brother who is growing up to be a change maker, I can see it in my future partner, who I don’t know yet — but one can dream — and they radiate adventure, vulnerability and beauty.

But most importantly, I can see it in myself — for without it, I know that I’m not truly living, I’m just existing, and that would be a disservice to myself.