I buried myself in work to avoid my fears of intimacy. Falling for someone just as driven forced me to confront the person I’d become.

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I’ve always been the type to chase success, to be the best at what I do. From my early days as a management consultant, jet-setting around the globe, to my current status as an entrepreneur, ambition has always been my driving force. I’ve built businesses, become prosperous, and created a life many would envy. Now in my early forties, the fruits of my relentless pursuit of success are evident. Yet despite the prosperity, a lingering sense of emptiness permeates my seemingly perfect life. Amidst the good friends and supportive family, I realized what was missing – a deep, intimate connection.

It was during one of my business trips to Saigon that I met her – an incredibly beautiful woman with an entrepreneurial spirit that mirrored mine. For the first time, I found myself drawn towards someone who was just as driven and just as unavailable as I’d always been. It was a strange dynamic; I wasn’t used to being on this side of the equation.

The conversations with her were exhilarating, but often punctuated by her delayed responses or sudden unavailability. It was clear that we had a connection, yet it seemed like she was running away from something too. It took me a while to accept that we weren’t going anywhere, but it was her nonchalance that finally made me realize that I deserved more than being an afterthought.

This realization made me reflect on my own behavior and how I had acted similarly with many women in the past. Being so focused on work had become my way of avoiding vulnerability and intimacy. This encounter forced me to confront my fears and rethink my approach towards relationships. As I navigated this personal revelation, my perspective shifted – it wasn’t just about the chase anymore; it was time to slow down and allow for deeper connections to form.

Recognizing the pattern

The realization that I was repeating a cycle of emotional unavailability was a bitter pill to swallow. I had always prided myself on being self-aware, yet somehow, I had missed this glaring pattern in my own behavior.

In retrospect, it all made sense. I’d been using work as a shield to protect myself from the vulnerability that comes with intimacy. The long hours, the incessant travel, the relentless pursuit of success – it was all a convenient excuse to keep people at arm’s length.

This realization dawned upon me when I found myself in her shoes, feeling undeserving of being sidelined. It was like looking in a mirror. The frustration I felt towards her mirrored the feelings that many women in my past must have felt towards me.

At this point, it became clear that if I wanted a deeper connection, I needed to make some changes. The first step? Slowing down and allowing myself to be vulnerable.

Embracing vulnerability

The journey towards embracing vulnerability was not an easy one. For someone who had always valued control and success, letting go and opening up felt like stepping into uncharted territory. I had to unlearn the habits that had shielded me from emotional exposure and learn to be comfortable with the uncertainties of deep connections.

I started by making small changes in my lifestyle. Instead of filling every waking moment with work, I began to set aside time for personal growth and reflection. I engaged in activities that I had previously dismissed as unproductive, like meditation and journaling. These practices helped me to understand my fears and desires more clearly, creating a space for introspection.

I also made an effort to be more present in my relationships. This meant actively listening and being emotionally available to my friends and family. I started to appreciate the value of simply being there for someone, rather than constantly striving to fix things or offer solutions. It was a humbling experience to just listen and empathize.

Reaching out for help

As I embarked on this path of self-discovery, I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. Seeking help was another step towards vulnerability. I found a therapist who specialized in relationship dynamics and started attending regular sessions. These sessions provided a safe space to explore my past behaviors and the underlying reasons for my emotional unavailability.

Through therapy, I learned about attachment styles and how my ‘avoidant’ style had been affecting my relationships. Understanding the psychological aspects of my behavior was enlightening. It was like finding the missing pieces of a puzzle, which once assembled, provided a clearer picture of who I was and what I needed to work on.

Creating new patterns

Armed with this new understanding, I began to consciously create new patterns in my life. I made efforts to reach out and build deeper connections, even when it felt uncomfortable. I learned to express my feelings more openly and to ask for what I needed in relationships. It was a gradual process, but with each step, I felt more aligned with my true self.

The most significant change came in my approach to dating. Instead of the fleeting connections I was used to, I started seeking relationships that had the potential for emotional depth and longevity. I became more selective, not in terms of superficial criteria, but in finding someone whose values and goals aligned with mine.

Dispelling the illusion of invulnerability

There’s a prevalent belief that successful, driven individuals are immune to the emotional pitfalls that plague others. That somehow, our relentless pursuit of success shields us from feelings of loneliness or emptiness. I wholeheartedly subscribed to this belief, convincing myself that my work was enough to fill any void.

But this is a dangerous illusion. Success doesn’t make us invincible to the human need for connection. It doesn’t nullify our desire for intimacy. If anything, burying ourselves in work can amplify these feelings. It’s a hard truth I had to learn firsthand.

I discovered that my relentless drive was not a bulwark against emotional vulnerability but rather a manifestation of my fear of it. The woman in Saigon served as the catalyst for this realization, forcing me to confront the person I’d become.

In the next section, I’ll share how I started embracing vulnerability and building deeper connections, in the hope that my experience may help others facing similar challenges.

Embracing vulnerability

The process of embracing vulnerability was daunting, but it was necessary for me to form deeper, more meaningful relationships. I started by simply slowing down. I cut back on the long hours and reduced my travel, creating more time and space for personal connections.

Next, I had to confront my fears head-on. I acknowledged that the fear of intimacy was holding me back from forming deeper connections. It was a difficult realization, but acknowledging it was a crucial step.

Then came the most challenging part: opening up. I started sharing more about myself – my fears, my dreams, and even my insecurities. It was scary, but it allowed me to connect with people on a much deeper level.

If you’re reading this and recognize yourself in my story, know that it’s never too late to make a change. Embrace vulnerability and make space for intimacy. It may be uncomfortable at first, but the rewards are immeasurable.

A broader perspective

In my journey of self-discovery, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that are applicable beyond just fostering deeper relationships:

  • Taking responsibility for my situation, despite it not being entirely my fault, empowered me. It gave me the strength to confront and overcome my fear of intimacy.
  • Learning to think for myself was crucial. I realized that my workaholic tendencies were partly due to societal expectations of what success looks like. Breaking free from these imposed beliefs allowed me to live a life on my terms.
  • Acknowledging dissatisfaction is the first step towards change. I had to accept the emptiness I was feeling despite my outward success.
  • Embracing practical self-development over feel-good mysticism was key. There’s no magic wand to fix our issues; it requires conscious effort and dedication.

If you recognize yourself in any of these points, remember: it’s never too late to make a change. Embrace the journey of self-exploration and reshape your reality.

As always when I go on these reflective journeys, I revisit the Love and Intimacy Masterclass on The Vessel. It has played a pivotal role in helping me build a deeper connection with myself, which has significantly improved my relationships.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

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Justin Brown

As co-founder of Ideapod, a digital publishing platform reaching millions, and creator of The Vessel, a new platform for self-knowledge, I bring a unique perspective to the world of culture, politics and psychology. With a M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and M.A. (First Class Honours) from the Australian National University, I've dedicated my career to understanding and sharing new ideas and perspectives for a new generation.

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