I just read a heartfelt article from Fast Company called: “Anderson Cooper: Why ‘No Plan B’ Is the Only Plan.” written by Anderson Cooper himself. I have had a news-crush on him for years. I think it first happened after reading his book: “Dispatches from the Edge” that is about his life growing up and his career in journalism. Maybe because his integrity seems to ooze out. Sure he comes from a rich family, he knows luxury. How could you not when your mom is Gloria Vanderbilt. Yet, he chose a different route.
He chose his passion. How many wealthy kids choose to go and be in the middle of a natural disaster, war, riots, poverty, just to tell the story? Not many that I can think of. He has an interesting life. If you read his article, you will learn a bit more about him — about the loss of his father at the age of ten, and the suicide of his brother when he was in college. I love this idea that he shares:
“I’m a big believer in creating your own opportunity if no one gives you one.”
What if we all did that in life? How many opportunities would we bring to ourselves and the world? When did we stop looking for them?
Maybe I relate to Cooper because I have lost a lot of my family. Losing my parents at such an early age made me in some ways grow a shell. It made me realize that I had to look out for myself, and that there wasn’t any “adult” that was looking out for me. Sometimes I think we have this built-in defense mechanism that says oh my parents will be there to pick up the pieces, even when we are 30 and 40 and so on. That never was a reality for me. The words he shares to explain how he felt after losing his father and brother are exactly how I too felt:
“I wanted to become autonomous, prepare myself for any eventuality, and protect myself from further pain.”
While my autonomy means I still have a Plan B, and C through to Z, my story is different. My fears are mine, how I react to them is my story. I hope Cooper’s story resonates with you. You might just find a new opportunity opens up because you are looking for it.
My mom’s last words to me were: “You are strong.” Who knows what she meant as I was sixteen and not savvy enough to ask her what she meant by it. Maybe it was her way of telling me to “Be strong.” Or maybe it was to reinforce that she felt I was strong in my bones. I will never know, and maybe it does not even matter. It was the first line of my college entrance essay. I wish I still had a copy of it. I would be curious to know how I had processed the next two years of my life before writing about her to get into college. I think I wanted them to know that I was not just another number, that I had lived a life that many have not before they enter college. I wanted to somehow stand out. I needed to stand out as I had no Plan B. I applied to one college and luckily I got in.
I am rambling though. I recently came across this quote from Brenda Shaughnessy. She is an American poet and trust me, I do not follow her at all because somehow my brain and poetry just do not mix. I have never melded well with poetry or understood it. Sure there are poems that sink into my core and change the way that I look at the world, but most of the time I feel perplexed and wonder how they did it. In any case, I am definitely not into poetry because it took me this long to introduce this quote to you:
“I came to see that what constitutes strength is not just a muscle or will. It can also include the most desperate vulnerability, the saddest heartache, the lightest, sweetest laughter.”
I do not remember how, but this quote came into my inbox last week, and stuck with me. I had to share it. So often we think others are strong because they have been through so much (I get that from time to time based on my past). Sometimes we might think someone is strong because they consistently stick to a routine or a workout schedule. Maybe they get up at 4 am to ensure that they have the opportunity to push themselves and their bodies before the rest of their family wakes up and starts the day.
I have written quite a few posts on vulnerability. It is a word that energizes me. There is something about being vulnerable that gives an aura of strength. It says that person is not afraid to put oneself out there and be granted with whatever reaction is returned. Whether they share the scary parts of their life, their saddest and lowest parts, or as Shaughnessy says: the parts that bring laughter. I will give you an example.
A few weeks ago I was traveling with a colleague and my boss. We were walking through the airport to our gate and talking. I was following both of them (both are men) and as they each walked into the bathroom I started to follow them in, only to realize I was walking into the men’s restroom. Ooops. Luckily I caught myself in time, reversed course and moved on to the women’s bathroom. They both had a good laugh and via text it got back to my other co-workers. I could have either be completely embarrassed and devastated, or just rolled with it. I rolled with it and had a good laugh with them.
Sometimes being vulnerable brings us to our strength, whether through tears or laughter.