A Football Player’s Awakening To Vulnerability

I want to share a story of a football player’s awakening to vulnerability that I was blessed to be part of. This story unfolded about 10-15 years ago. Or so, I’m not great at measuring time. I saw a meme recently that read: “When I say, ‘the other day.’ I could be referring to any time between yesterday and 15 years ago.” – this is me. I have no concept of time passing. My husband could tell you the exact day and time something occurred, me? Not so much, all I know is that an event happened.

Regardless of when this story was, it has stayed with me all this time – a story about a football player and vulnerability will stick with a person.

I digress… let’s move on with the story.

A Little Background First

I used to be a professional speaker working mostly with people in job transition. I was a career coach at “The Career Transition Center” in Chicago. Once a week I would sit in an office and work one-on-one with people, coaching them through their job search. Our job as coaches was to coach job seekers on their job search methods, discuss their struggles, review their resumes, and do practice interviews. But with me, in my sessions, we seemed to mostly talk about mindset issues. Their limiting beliefs. Their insecurities and the things that keep them stuck in life as well as in their careers.

I truly believe if you have things that keep you stuck, and if you have things you have not resolved, they are going to manifest themselves in all of the areas of your life. As humans, we are not that good at compartmentalizing.

Even when we think we are.

Every week I had this big, teddy bear football player who came into my office. Being a football player was what he identified most with. After all, he had been one since middle school.  We spent our sessions discussing what he was struggling with, both in his life and in his job search. He was open and vulnerable in our sessions, the fact that an awakening to vulnerability would be needed was an interesting turn of events.

The Beginning of the Awakening

One day he started off our session talking to me about how his wife and 16-year-old daughter were starting to pull away from him. He was feeling more and more distant from them; he felt a disconnect and it was getting worse and worse. It was making him sad and uncomfortable and he asked me what he should do.

I said to him, “Week after week you come in here and you talk to me about the things you are afraid of, you talk to me about the way you feel about yourself. You’re completely exposed and vulnerable with me in here. Do you tell them these things? Do you talk to them like this?”

He said, “No! I need to protect them,” in a tone expressing he was shocked I even asked.

Based on how open and vulnerable he was in our sessions, I was surprised he needed an awakening to vulnerability, but here he was revealing he most certainly does.

“Protect them from what?” I asked.

He stared at me, and I stared back.

I can hold the silence like it’s an Olympic event and I’m the gold medal winner.  It is an effective tool and I have no problem using it. I find no need to jump in. I’ll sit there all day.

He eventually responded very quietly that he didn’t actually know what he meant by that.

The Awakening to Vulnerability Unfolds

I explained to him that when we don’t talk to the people who are supposed to love us the most and who we are supposed to love the most and share our most vulnerable selves with them, then how can we expect them to truly love us completely and unconditionally?

How can we really expect them to truly know us?

He told me he was scared; he was afraid they wouldn’t understand. He was worried they would think less of him. Afraid they would pull away more, or worse yet, leave him.

I asked him if he really thought they would do that.

He thought for a little while and said, “No.

I asked him if he thought they were really pulling away from him, or if he was just seeing it that way. Perhaps he was the one shutting down and pulling away from them.

He stared some more, thinking deeply about what I just said.

I let him sit in his thoughts for a little while, the awakening was happening before my eyes. Just watching his face as he was thinking it through, I could see he was getting it.

After some time, I asked, “What do you have to lose?”

He said, “I guess nothing – or everything.”

I said, “My money is on everything, but not in the way you mean.”

The Awakening Put Into Action

The next week he was the first person on my schedule. I was barely sitting down when this whirling dervish came flying into my office. He quickly closed the door behind him. He was still leaning up against the door holding it shut as tears started rolling down his face.

I could tell instantly they were tears of joy. I saw the relief on his face and in his whole body. I could tell instantly a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

“Really? Crying already, you big baby?” I teased showing him how excited I was to hear his story and how proud I was of him to have come so far.

He laughed. If I wasn’t a smartass, he would’ve thought he was in the wrong room – it’s sometimes my love language.

My Quick Reflection

I remember thinking back to how open, honest and vulnerable he was with me from the very first meeting we had. I remember thinking how mature and evolved this man was. When he explained he was not that way with his wife and daughter I was surprised. It seemed to come so naturally to him.

The Story of the Awakening Bringing Peace

He sat down and told me all that transpired after he left my office last week.

When he got home that night he sat quietly with himself for some time and thought more about our conversation. He spent this time alone thinking about how things had been unfolding with his family. Perhaps it was him, and not them, who was pulling away. He knew he was feeling guilt and shame about not knowing what to do next with his life. These feelings caused him to believe he was letting them down. Even though they never made him feel that way.

The next day he couldn’t wait any longer to talk to his family. He explained to me how when he asked them to talk they seemed a little nervous.

Their nervousness started to make him feel nervous, he even questioned for a second if he was doing the right thing. He decided he was. Once he realized how shitty he’d been feeling he knew this was going to be his release. Finally, the way out of feeling this way.

He sat down with them and told them he was scared, feeling lost, and unsure of himself. He told them he was afraid he wasn’t going to find another job he was interested in, a good fit for, or qualified for. He told them he wasn’t sure who he was without football. He told them he was afraid he didn’t know what would be next for him.

He said it was like an out-of-body experience as he continued to talk and not hold back anything. He was surprised at how much he was telling them. He even revealed to them that he was scared to tell them all this. He told them he was worried about what they would think of him. He shocked himself when he told them he was worried about what he would think of himself. He said he was scared they would leave him.

He told them everything.

The Beauty of Vulnerability

He sat across from me at my desk, tears rolling slowly down his face. I still remember so vividly him describing to me how their conversation unfolded. His wife sat beside him on the couch at a distance, his daughter also at a distance in the chair to his left. He described to me how as he spoke to them, as he stripped away all of his insecurities and removed the labels he had put on himself, they slid in closer to him. As he kept talking, not holding anything back, closer they came until they were embracing each other so tightly, that they became a single unit.

They cried with him, they put their arms around him, held him, and just loved him.

They didn’t say anything, they didn’t need to.

The Awakening to Vulnerability Revealed

He told me in that moment he knew exactly what I meant when I said, “My money is on everything, but not in the way you mean.”

He said he never felt love like that before. That everything was different now. Lighter, happier, freer.

He said he was grateful for learning that being vulnerable with the people you love is so much more important than only being vulnerable with people in the outside world. 

He finally understood that he wasn’t protecting anybody from anything. He was actually causing damage.

At the end of the session he got up, and as he was walking out he turned to me and said, “I guess football players do cry.”

I hope so…

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