“Our challenge is to engage and explore ways to push at life’s boundaries.” -Daniel Seigel
thirsty for risk
In a split second, I can return to the moment when I first let go of my oldest son’s bicycle, after days of holding on and running beside him. And it is fitting that it was he who encouraged me, “Let go, mom. Let go. I’ve got it,” as he joyfully pedaled down the rocky driveway himself.
Though an outsider might have observed me guiding Conrad that day, clearly he was showing me how to approach an edge confidently and naturally, open to uncertainty. Given the right holder, youth aren’t simply willing to be courageous; they’re thirsty for vulnerability. Conrad’s eagerness for exploration outweighed his fear of looking foolish or falling. He was open to whatever came his way, authentically following his heart.
the heart of risk
Children may seem fearless. In fact, some experts argue that they are actually developmentally wired for vulnerability. Daniel Siegel documents brain research to explain this idea in his best-selling book Brainstorm. In it, Siegel invites us as adults to embrace, rather than scoff at and misjudge, adolescents’ affinity toward risk. He writes, “...the changes during adolescence are not something to just get through; they are qualities we actually need to hold on to in order to live a full and meaningful life in adulthood.” Siegel argues it would serve us all to allow our inner child to emerge – whether by learning to ski, speaking our truth in an awkward situation, or letting go of our child’s unsteady bicycle. He continues, "This striving for novelty is a creative power that can be harnessed for the benefit of everyone, if we see this move toward new things and independence in a positive way."
Time and time again, youth teach us: When given the right holder, they want to take risks and show their true, imperfect colors. Too often, society encourages us to cloak the truth and appear perfect. But, in fact, our imperfections make us human and serve as a catalyst for authentic connections to others.
following youth's lead
I have seen countless examples of youth showing their inclination to be vulnerable. And I’m not talking about risky behavior such as speeding or drinking, examples which seem to be come to mind first when we think of teens taking chances. I mean vulnerabilities of the heart, like the conversation in which the teenage boy was brave enough to cry when he shared that his biggest fear was losing his brother. Or the moment when the teenage girl suddenly sat up straight in her chair, mid-meal, and told us that she wanted us to know how much she loved and appreciated our friendship.
These teens spoke their truths even though they felt uncomfortable. When they did, their courage unlocked the incredible rush of connection that greets you on the other side of opening up. It’s pretty amazing to think about how a few words spoken from someone’s heart can so immediately build a deep, lasting connection. It is an honor to witness another person’s openness. It is a relief to know others are struggling with or experiencing feelings as deeply as we do. That is the heart of the connection.
Being actively and openly vulnerable takes practice. With each try, we experience the allure and adrenaline rush that comes with messiness. By telling others about our challenges, we welcome (rather than shun) uncertainty and imperfection. The morning of Conrad’s solo bike ride it was I who was afraid. I was afraid of him not needing me. I was afraid of him falling. And yet I felt the rush when I let him go. I only wish I had told him how scared I was in that faith-filled moment. I know now that when we reveal our true selves — our vulnerabilities — we offer the gift of true connections to others. And I can think of no gift I’d rather give.