by Dr. Tina Marcantel

mountain stream

My husband Peter and I did some hiking recently on the West Fork trail in Oak Creek Canyon, a beautiful trek that follows a mountain stream through a thickly wooded area. The hike entails a number of stream crossings, so if you’re wearing jogging shoes like I was it means hopping from rock to rock while trying not to slip off into the chilly waters.

Each time I came to a new crossing I would study the placement of the rocks and plan my route, always a bit worried about whether I could make it without soaking my shoes—or worse, falling and winding up wet from head-to-toe.

What made me even more nervous was when other hikers arrived at the stream at the same time we did. Did they think I was taking too long to start my crossing? Did I look silly as I carefully picked my way across? Would they laugh at me if I slipped and wound up sitting up to my waist in the frigid creek? Knowing I had an audience of strangers made me feel very vulnerable and that made me uncomfortable.

What I learned, though, was that the people who were waiting for me on the other side often had all the same fears I had! This was made clear to me as I finished one crossing and a man said, “Good job! You made it! Now it’s my turn to see if I can do it…” I realized that he hadn’t been judging me as an incompetent rock-hopper—he was silently cheering me on as I went and he was gaining self-confidence from my success.

As this scenario was repeated several times during the hike I became more comfortable with each crossing—not so much because the crossings were easier but because I didn’t feel the pressure of trying to hide my vulnerability from strangers.

How often does this happen in life? We think that we have to project complete confidence and competence in every aspect of our lives because those around us are just waiting to judge us for our weaknesses. In fact, most of those people share the same doubts and fears we have. By letting others see that we are vulnerable but that we are still willing to try, we often can be a great encouragement to those who are watching us.

Allowing my vulnerability to show accomplishes two positive things. First, I am able to drop the façade of perfection that it takes so much energy to maintain, taking a lot of pressure off myself. Second, I’m able to help and encourage others who may be going through the same challenges I am. They don’t see me as an intimidating expert rock-hopper. I’m like them,  just a fellow hiker who is trying to keep her feet dry.