creative support for times of change

the paradox of vulnerability

Most of us don’t like uncertainty. We do a lot to try to make things ‘certain’, attempting to gain some control over a particular outcome, relationship, or habit.  Living with uncertainty seems to conjure up fears – I’m vulnerable, this isn’t safe. Our vivid imaginations can build up some pretty drastic assumptions and beliefs about where this uncertainty is bound to lead us.

In fact there is a case for sharing our vulnerability – in appropriate contexts – actually helping us. Exposing our vulnerability can lead to stronger connections and thus increase our sense of safety and protection. Interesting paradox…especially for leaders and colleagues looking for ways to work better, more effectively, together. Discernment plays a key role as to what and when and with whom one shares his or her questions, fears, and wishes.

In this TED talk, Dr. Brené Brown talks about her research on Wholeheartedness and Connection.  Here are some of the highlights that jumped out for me:

  • Role of connection – gives us purpose and meaning
  • Vulnerability – is about allowing ourselves to be seen; the birth place of wholeheartedness
  • Vulnerability is a crucial, central element in leading our lives, leading others
  • Vulnerability is the element that helps us navigate between shame and empathy – two opposing ends of a continuum
  • Defining shame vs guilt: 
    • Shame – ‘I am bad’; not a useful motivator
    • Guilt – “I did a bad thing”, something that doesn’t fit my own code; could be a useful motivator 
  • We can’t selectively numb our emotions; if we numb what we don’t like we will also numb those we desire, like joy

When I think back to my own experiences, I find several stories of when I allowed my vulnerability to show and I gained strength and perspective to help me move forward. The energy I was using to hide what was really going on for me was able to be directed to finding new ways. I was able to accept offers of help in whatever form they came. I was more open to connecting with others as well as to my true self. 

I have also observed this happening with folks that I work with. As each person takes baby steps to reveal their vulnerability their colleagues are reminded of the person’s – and their own – humanity. This experience often makes all the difference in a team moving forward with energy and passion.

Yes there may be moments when our discernment was off and we didn’t get the response we hoped for. These are the risks inherent in learning how to connect, lead, be better together. Chalk it up to learning. 

Does any of this resonate with you in your life as a leader, an employee, a colleague, or perhaps as a parent? What are the conditions that help you discern when it is appropriate to step into your vulnerability?


One comment on “the paradox of vulnerability

  1. I watched this! It was great! Not sure if I got the link from you earlier or what, but I did send it along to a few friends because I believe it's a very helpful talk. So glad you blogged about it!

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