February 23, 2018

SZA and the Power of Vulnerability

Car rides with me and my husband always start off the same way, “What do you want to listen to?” This is never easy for us. We are both obsessed with music, just not the same music. He did not grow up with my alternative and indie rock or emo music. Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, Minus the Bear, The Decemberists, and Jump, Little Children weren’t on his burned CDs growing up. He didn’t wait for Incubus’ Stellar to come on TRL so he could see the video for the hundredth time. And his Nas, Jay Z, and The Roots never made it to my iTunes until we started dating.

So, on a recent road trip when my husband asked to listen to SZA’s album CTRL (just a warning, totally NSFW), I reluctantly agreed figuring that when it was my turn to drive, I would change the music. Instead, that was the beginning of my obsession with her and especially her song, “Drew Barrymore.”

“You came with your new friends and her mom jeans and her new Vans, and she’s perfect and I hate it.”

This song goes straight to that vulnerability and insecurity we all feel throughout our lives. We like to think it’s mostly a problem teenagers deal with, but let’s be real, we all have those moments where we are comparing ourselves to someone else and feel completely inadequate.

“I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth. We get so lonely, we pretend that this works. I’m so ashamed of myself think I need therapy.” *

*SZA if you are ever in the Atlanta area and want some therapy, I got you.

We date people we shouldn’t because we think we aren’t good enough or maybe they look good on paper. We take jobs we hate because we feel like we aren’t smart enough to do better. We stick with what’s safe, no matter how miserable it makes us.

We can’t fix problems if we don’t first admit that there is a problem or that things aren’t perfect. When we are able to say, “I don’t have it all figured out and that’s okay,” we can begin to make big changes. We can then act more lovingly towards ourselves, which leads to making healthier decisions.

Vulnerability also leads to stronger connections with others. The reason I became so obsessed with this SZA song is because it felt human, it felt normal. It’s comforting to know that someone isn’t perfect and that they have insecurities. The people I feel closest to in my life are the ones who I can tell I totally messed this thing up and I feel terrible, and they will acknowledge it and tell me about the time they also screwed up. Nobody’s perfect, so let’s stop wasting so much time and energy pretending like we’ve got it all figured out.

Being vulnerable isn’t about being down on yourself all of the time and obsessing over your flaws. It’s about acknowledging our imperfections and then saying “…and that’s okay.”

Being vulnerable isn’t all negative stuff either. It’s also about telling someone you are proud of them or that you enjoy spending time with them.

So let’s increase vulnerability in our lives.

1. Admit when you are wrong. 

I’m sure my husband will love seeing this one on here. I’m not the best at it and I need to work on it. But when I’m standing outside and freezing my ass off because I didn’t wear my warmer coat like my husband suggested, it’s really hard to admit I was wrong. And I will just sit there and repeatedly say “I’m fine” even though he knows I’m far from it. Now if I’m able to get over my pride and be a little vulnerable, I will likely be met with an arm around my shoulder, an offer to borrow his scarf, and no time wasted pretending everything’s fine.

2. Admit when you are scared or feeling insecure. 

I’m a worrier. I worry about my family. I worry about my dog. I worry about my clients. I worry about worrying too much and what it might do to my health. But I manage this worry by acknowledging it either by admitting it to someone or by saying it out loud if no one is around. I tell myself it’s okay to feel that way, evaluate if there is anything I can do about the situation (and do it if I can), and then turn my focus to something else. This is also a great thing to model for children, especially boys! Often you hear people telling kids they have nothing to be afraid of or the worst saying in the world “man up.” It would be much more effective to say “Sometimes I get scared too because sometimes things are scary and this is what I do…”

3. Tell people that you care about them or that you are thinking about them.

How many times have you sat their with your phone thinking about texting or calling someone but then not because you think you might bother them or that they don’t want to hear from you? I know that’s something I do a lot. I have tried to make it a goal that if someone crosses my mind, I at least send them a text saying hi. It doesn’t have to be anything involved or a long, drawn out conversation, just a hello. At worst, they might not respond (and that’s okay!) but more likely, you made them smile even if it was just for a second. We like to know that people think of us and that we matter.

4. Talk about your failures.

College taught me all about being okay with failure. I very quickly went from feeling on top of the world when I got into Princeton to feeling like Princeton must have made a mistake because I had no business being there with all those smart people. Then, one night my roommates and I all confessed to each other how overwhelmed and stupid we felt sometimes. We talked about the classes we were struggling in and how we might have made mistakes choosing classes or majors. It was wonderful. Suddenly my failures felt normal and just part of the experience and when I was able to talk about them, they no longer held power over me. Instead of spending so much time focusing on how I could be better or ways I had failed, I was able to accept that being good at everything was not necessary to live my life. Suddenly, school became a lot more fun. I was able to enjoy learning and became less focused on getting perfect grades. That actually helped me do better in school because my brain functions a whole lot better when I’m not beating myself up.

5. Practice kindness.

Being kind can be really hard sometimes. Sometimes we are afraid someone will take advantage of us. Sometimes we are afraid it makes us look weak. And sometimes we’re afraid that someone will reject that kindness. Walking down the street, looking strangers in the eye, and smiling makes my introverted self want to panic. I feel exposed and awkward and like I’ve suddenly forgotten how to walk like a normal person. I have been working on getting better at this and have found the more I do it, the less awkward I feel and people usually smile back. It’s such a small thing but I know that when someone smiles at me, it can make my day. Kindness can be little things. You don’t have to give away all of your money and your time (and you shouldn’t). Kindness can be saying hi to strangers, holding doors open, letting someone in front of you, etc.

So SZA, thank you for reminding me how powerful being a little vulnerable can be. It’s exhausting pretending you’re perfect and it’s alienating. Increase the vulnerability in your life and you might find you are able to connect with people more deeply.

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