Chris Dessi TEDx

It is early September of 2011. My wife and I are in our living room watching television, when suddenly we hear 3 horrifying guttural cries coming from our daughter’s room upstairs.

We immediately ran up the steps, threw open the door to our daughter’s room and found our 8-month-old daughter Olivia in the throws of a seizure.

Our then three-year-old, Talia, watched as my wife and I tried to make sense of what was happening. I scooped Olivia up from her Crib and held her. Not sure what was happening, I barked at my wife to call 911.

Talia started to cry, and so did my wife. I felt the urge to cry myself. I didn’t know what was happening to Olivia, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

In a moment of clarity, I decided to run outside with the baby. Believing that my baby was about to die in my arms, I decided to walk outside with her, so that my wife and my 3 year old wouldn’t have to witness her death, and so that I would be there with Olivia, lovingly holding her.

I couldn’t tell if she was breathing. She was unresponsive to me, and although my wife had said that she was seizing, I had no proof. All I knew is that her body was limp like a rag doll, her head was bobbing and wouldn’t stabilize, and her eyelids were half open. Her body was on fire – so hot!

I ran into the street and waved down the approaching Ambulance. As medics and police officers took control in my living room, Olivia’s vital signs began to improve. She got her color back, and was breathing normally. She became responsive and opened her eyes.

Seeing that my wife and I were panicked, and sensing that Olivia was ok, a police officer looked at me, noticed that I had sweat completely through my clothing, and provided a much needed moment of levity as he said, “Sir, we only have enough oxygen for your daughter, we need you to calm down.”

Olivia had experienced a benign febrile seizure; she would be perfectly fine.

We all recovered and settled back in to our routines. Then a few days later, I saw coverage of the 10th anniversary of September 11th; and as I heard the name of the captain of my Loyola College rugby team Sean Lugano, I found myself weeping.

On September 11, 2001, Sean had gone missing from World Trade Center 2. He was 28 years old. Sean was a stockbroker with KBW. Sean was the All American captain of my rugby team at Loyola University. I remember the devastation of the news of Sean missing 10 years prior, but somehow it felt even more profound this time.

I think perhaps it’s because at that point, ten years later, I was the lucky guy, and Sean was gone.

I had a gorgeous wife, two beautiful and healthy children, and I felt angry and upset. Angry that Sean would never experience this joy; and upset that his parents had lost their child that day.

Just days before, having experienced just a few minutes of the panic that the Lugano family had dealt with for ten years was a profound reminder of how fragile life is, and how strong his family had to be to endure after losing Sean.

I needed to DO SOMETHING, and what I did will surprise you.

I chose Vulnerability.

I an article and publically admitted how confused and utterly exposed I had felt with Olivia, and that I had cried when I learned of Sean’s murder,

What happened next profoundly and positively changed me.

After letting down my guard, and sharing a raw and deeply personal moment; I was deluged with warmth, love and support beyond what I could have ever imagined. An outpouring of fond memories of Sean, as well as love for our family and for Olivia ensued.

It was a powerful moment.

I had allowed myself to be vulnerable, and the result was profound warmth and connection. I learned that the more vulnerable I allow myself to be, the more good comes to me. The vulnerability brought me comfort and community.

Vulnerability works; yet most of us are afraid to remove our masks.

Employing the mechanisms to protect us in fact hurt us.

In July 2009 I was fired for the 3rd time in 2 years. A week afterward being fired I would have used softer language to make myself seem stronger –phrases like “I was let go” or they were downsizing, or Laid off.

Even today, I can still hear every word. “Today is your last day at Buddy Media.”

Devastating.

While I was not the first person to get fired. Nor would I the last; I may be one of the only that chose to publicize this experience via social media — blogging, podcasts — you name it;

I told my story. In an article, and even documented the experience in a book. And instead of humiliation, I was embraced by a profound outpouring of connection and support. Candid sharing of my deeply personal story let to enhanced business relationships and life-long friendships.

I discovered that my vulnerability did not diminish my power. In fact, it did the opposite! In this instance, my hard work had not brought the success I expected. It was my honest and raw vulnerability is that was the path to deep life altering success.

So you see, what we think of when we ponder the idea of vulnerability is often not what vulnerability actually is.   Those who shed their ego, and embrace vulnerability, strengthen their bonds with others in so many ways.

Vulnerability works; yet most of us are afraid to remove our masks.

Employing the mechanisms to protect us in fact hurt us.

Here’s how to put your vulnerability into action:

  • In your Friendships –When a friend is in need, show your vulnerability by reaching out to them and extending an olive branch. You will likely get back unexpected closeness and gratitude.
  • At Work — Don’t be afraid to ask for help; or to offer help to a colleague, or even a competitor. You will be viewed as strong, not weak.
  • With your Family — Freely offer affection and show genuine emotion. Unplug from your devices, and offer your full-undivided attention.   Your loved ones will never forget how special they felt in your presence.
  • In your personal Relationships — Let go of the need for power and the need to be right. Instead, express love and support in your actions. Allowing yourself to trust, support and give more than you take. You will enhance your relationship beyond what you ever imagined.

In 2010 my Father was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive, degenerative, and tragically, incurable, disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.

Although I’m not a runner, I decided that the best way I could honor my father was by raising money for the ALS Association, and that the best way I could raise money was by running in the New York City Marathon.

Except the year that I had planned on running the marathon, was also the year it was cancelled because of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy. I drank a few scotches with my Dad, apologized for not being able to run, and went to bed. The next day I decided I would run the marathon anyway – only I would do it in my town, and finish at a local school’s track.

At about the 17th mile, my family arrived. And, of course, my dad.

People from nearby fields started to take notice. One person told two people, two people told 10 people. A fellow Pleasantville High track regular ran to nearby sporting events and told people what I was doing. As the myriad soccer games ended, kids sprinted to the track to offer high fives and encouraging words.

At mile 20, I heard the encouraging words, “You need some company?” Dirk Klingner, a former distance runner at Binghamton University, saddled up alongside me asking, “You mind if I run along with you?” We had never met. We stayed together for five miles. I was overcome by the kindness of strangers.

Some kids started running with me, screaming, ‘He’s running for a cure!’ My brother said I was like Rocky, running through the streets of Philadelphia.

As the 26th mile approached, a referee from a nearby soccer game blew his whistle — mid-action — and demanded the game come to a temporary halt.

With the crowd cheering and my father waiting for me at the finish line – exhausted, I knelt down to hug my father – and we both burst into tears. Both of us were weeping. I told my father that I love him. We both cried. Before that moment I can only recall one other time when I saw my father cry.

Vulnerability works; yet most of us are afraid to remove our masks.

Employing the mechanisms to protect us in fact hurt us.

This is a lesson I want to share for my girls — so they don’t have to run a marathon to tell me that they love me. It was easier for me to run a marathon than to tell my father how much I was hurting watching him suffer, and to show him how much I loved him.

We’ve all experienced deep moments of self-doubt like I did with Olivia, times of difficulty like I did was I was fired

or lost huge pieces of our own world even loved ones…like when my father eventually passed away…

It’s among the most relatable experiences we have as human beings, but in our public lives we pretend like we’re infallible.

Let’s all get better at telling our truest & most vulnerable stories, and let’s love and support each other through them.

Thank you