For years I had been having a similar recurring dream.
I would enter a public bathroom and there would be rows and rows of stalls as if I were in a maze. Yet despite how many stalls there were and how many I opened, I just couldn’t find a clean one. And I had to go!
Each time I had this dream, I would wake up scratching my head, wondering what the hell this dream was trying to tell me. It obviously had to be something, because why would I be dreaming the same thing over and over again?
I was seeing a life coach in 2011. And in one of our sessions, the topic of dreams came up. My life coach explained to me that dreams is the unconscious’ way of communicating with us (very Carl Jung!). I told her about my recurring dirty bathroom dream and she laughed. Not what I expected, but she went on to tell me that it was a common recurring dream that had a very simple meaning: I was struggling to express myself. I needed a very specific environment in which I felt safe enough to express. Interesting.
I thought about it for a few seconds. I wasn’t too sure what she was talking about. I had always been very opinionated with my family and friends, so I wasn’t quite sure that was it.
My life coach pointed out that yes, from what she gathered, I was opinionated on many topics, but she questioned how I handled the hard stuff. I.e., the stuff that requires courageous conversations. The stuff that requires vulnerability. Eeeeek!
I had always thought of vulnerability as weakness. I didn’t like feeling mushy much. The thought of any conversation where tears could happen gave me nausea.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my life coach was right. I had taken detours to avoid conversations that required courage and emotion (other than anger – I was pretty OK with anger!).
I didn’t really know how I was going to tackle what I had just learned.
I started out with one courageous conversation with one of my closest friends about how I felt our friendship had changed and the impact it was having on me. When I saw that the conversation, (as uncomfortable and difficult as it felt for both of us), cleared the air between us and transformed our friendship for the better, I knew I could do it again. And I did. Over and over again.
Over and over again turned into being able and OK to cry in front of people without shame or fear and even an improv class earlier this year!
I’ve learned that vulnerability is an incredibly powerful, freeing and beautiful thing, and I can’t see my life or living a life of integrity without it.
American scholar and research professor Brené Brown sums up the power of vulnerability and courageous conversations in this clip:
You may be wondering whether I still have the dream. Well, I do still. Except there’s one big plot change: I no longer have trouble finding a place to “go”.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Brené Brown, her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on vulnerability is a must-see. It’s a bit long, but totally worth it!