Vulnerability…what does that mean? In my early years, I equated it with weakness and opening yourself up to harm. I thought being vulnerable opens you up to judgment, which opens the door to shame, neither of which is my idea of a good time.
One of my favorite teachers on this subject is Brené Brown. If you haven’t watched her 2010 TEDx Houston talk, you should right now! It’s one of the world’s top ten most-viewed TED talks. If it resonates with you, read her book The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, & Courage.
In an interview with Forbes, Brené said the following: “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. I was raised in a “get ‘er done” and “suck it up” family and culture (very Texan, German-American). The tenacity and grit of that upbringing have served me, but I wasn’t taught how to deal with uncertainty or manage emotional risk. I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity, to name a few. Learning how to be vulnerable has been a street fight for me, but it’s been worth it.”
I can relate to every single word she said, well, other than being Texan, lol. For me, growing up, it wasn’t safe to be weak or let your emotions show. Expressing your feelings would lead to criticism & belittlement, so you learned quickly that hiding your feelings was the less damaging thing to do. I learned how to be emotionally tough at a very young age, minimizing my own feelings & their value. I learned how to survive by always being calm, rational & level-headed, not asking for help, and not showing any weakness or vulnerability. I, too, lived in the world of black and white. It was my survival mechanism and served me for many years.
But at what cost? What did I miss out on all those years? How many relationships, experiences, and opportunities were impacted by my unwillingness to show up and be seen?
I was in management roles from the age of 16. I was a hard worker and natural-born leader but had no real skills or experience leading teams. In those early years, I led with authority and refused to show any weaknesses. However, as I matured as a leader, I learned a lot, mostly from other poor leaders and also from some great ones. It was evident that the best leaders are those who can connect with their teams on a personal level. When I began showing my vulnerability and sharing my fears and failures with my teams, I truly became an inspiring leader they wanted to follow. The same goes for family, friends, and romantic relationships. They all grew and deepened when I was willing to come out from behind the mask and be vulnerable.
Surface-level investments will only get you surface-level results. You must be willing to be vulnerable and let go of the shame to create lasting and meaningful relationships.
As for experiences and opportunities, I hid from anything that would put me in the spotlight. I hated being the center of attention. There is a part of me still to this day that gets uncomfortable and worries if I’ll be judged if I step forward. I’ve had to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I regularly challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone to not miss out on life’s experiences and opportunities.
I will forever be grateful to a mentor who introduced me to Brené’s work, which has profoundly impacted my life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
Here’s to another week of living your life by design, not by default!