Overcoming Vulnerability

Growing up vulnerable: I didn’t have many friends growing up. I was the shy, quiet kid that kept to himself during recess and tried to find contentment in the hopes of one day growing out of this adolescent phase. And sure I made a few good friends and I got along with the other kids but that still didn’t feel like enough. I would watch the extroverts, the leaders of the jungle-gym, the people who were picked first and wonder “why is it so hard for me, why can’t I be like that.” My introversion was my vulnerability.

Fake It: Everyone always says be true to yourself and things will turn out fine. Well I hated myself. I hated being vulnerable. I hated being the last picked and the slowest person. I hated that I was introverted and afraid of speaking to people. I hated shoving down the feeling of shame and humiliation of being me, of being a loser. I hated all that and more to the point where I decided, “Enough! I’ll be someone else!”

I accepted my vulnerabilities, my weakness and my introverted personality, and set about changing them. I was the slowest, least coordinated person so I joined the cross-country team. I was still the slowest my first season but I trained harder than anyone else and in a year I was winning every race.  I wasn’t weak anymore which felt good but I still wasn’t satisfied. I still wasn’t very social and I didn’t feel part of the team; being the fastest runner meant running and training alone.

I knew the next thing to fake was my personality and the way I carried myself. But you can’t just pull a 180 and start acting differently in front of the people who know you best like friends or family because they’ll know something is off. I needed an opportunity to be different around strangers.

The Leap: I found my opportunity freshman year of high school. There was a local high school rowing team that was recruiting. I didn’t know anything about the sport except that no one I knew was doing it. To an introvert, being thrown into a group of people you’ve never met, who all know each other well already, with the expectation of introducing yourself to them, is the stuff of nightmares!

At the first meeting, I wanted to steal my mom’s car keys and make a break for it when one of the senior members, the team captain, walked up and introduced himself. He was so casual about it, so confident. I wanted to be able to do that. We talked for a while (he talked, I mostly listened). He told me about what it was like to row, the team aspect, and the lasting friendships. I knew this was the chance I’d been looking for, a fresh start.576307_209585025811019_1127912675_n

From day one I mimicked what the leaders did. It felt awkward at first but I joined in on the embarrassing hijinks, acted outrageous, and hid my discomfort. Rather than stand on the edge of the circle of ringleaders as I had done for years, I made sure I sat in the middle and joined in the banter.

When the next recruitment meeting came around, I joined the captain in introducing myself to the new recruits. No one knew I was shy, that I was scared to speak to them; I even volunteered to model the team uniform (which was skimpy and flashy) in front of over 70 parents and kids, most of which I didn’t know.

I faked it. I faked it so hard those first two years that it became second nature. I noticed that I had become the person I had wanted to be. People looked up to me and respected me; I even became the captain of the team.

Living Strong: Looking at me today, you wouldn’t guess how vulnerable I was.  I’m a leader in the community with more reliable friends to count. I am still a vulnerable person, everyone is vulnerable about something. However, because I took a chance on changing myself I am a stronger, better, and unrecognizable person from who I was.



5 thoughts on “Overcoming Vulnerability

  1. Matt,

    Reading your essay has me feeling very inspired and wanting to get out and accomplish something. The fact that you started off the slowest on the track team, and ended up becoming the fastest through sheer determination is an amazing feat. I too struggled with shyness and the inability to speak in front of people without much effort. I think putting yourself around a new group of people was a smart choice and one that seems to have a huge positive impact on you.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Sometimes faking it til you make it really helps make some significant changes in yourself. Adapting a different behavior and mimicking someone’s personality typically is regarded as being “fake” and has a negative undertone, but I think that really depends on the way in which it is being applied to the individual. How you decided to start acting more like the senior captain to help improve you as a person was done with the rightful intention to help you grow out of your shell which is great. Your “faking it” was more of a trial of being the person that inspired you and acted as a role model for you. It’s great that you recognized that your vulnerability was in your introverted character in order to be able to find someone extroverted to serve as an example of the type of person that you wanted to be!

  3. I love this story! That’s how I felt my first year at CU and I can see how while you are still faking it you feel vulnerable and exposed. You are constantly worried that someone will see right through you and then when you realize you have become what you wanted to be the feeling is incredible. Thank you for sharing and for being an example to follow.

  4. Hey Matt,
    I liked your story because it is something that I easily can relate to. For me personally, some of the greatest lessons I have learned come from experiences with a team. I find it awesome that you found rowing, and from your teammates, you were able to be yourself and find comfort. I feel that sports teams are special due to the fact that the only way they really work, is when everyone is a part of the whole, rather than competing as individuals. A good team is almost like a family, and kids I competed with years ago are still some of my closest friends.

  5. Hi Matt,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I too am an introvert at heart. I think that it’s great that you found a solution to dealing with some of the hindrances that come along with being an introvert. As you and I have found out, we have difficulty getting past the boundaries that we set for ourselves. Some of these boundaries are good, and others are surely not. Breaking free from our own personal limits is deeply rewarding and although it can be scary, it gives us a chance to explore the world around us in a new light.


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