When I was young, I used to think I had to put on a strong exterior and come across with confidence… even if I didn’t feel that way.
That’s how I moved through most of my childhood and into early adulthood.
In truth, it was a kind of coping mechanism.
And it worked pretty well for me.… until it didn’t.
In the process of being strong and confident, I had built in armor around myself.
An armor that didn’t allow emotions in or out.
An armor that kept me from being "real" with myself and others.
And honestly, an armor kept me hiding behind a conservative theology.
But that all changed one day in January 1982.
I was taking an interim class in seminary between our winter and spring semesters. I don’t remember anything about the class, the topic, or even the professor’s name.
But I’ve never forgotten what the professor said that day.
He said "People connect way more with our struggles than with our strength."
As simple as that sounds, for me... it was profound.
I think I was craving a deeper kind of connection. I was craving to know and be known. I was craving to be real.
I was tired of being strong.
I was tired of being confident.
I was tired of being "right".
Later that week having coffee with a friend, I risked it... I dared to share my deepest darkest struggle.
To my delight, my vulnerability was received with love and acceptance AND, to my surprise, it invited a level of sharing from him that was equally vulnerable.
That experience was a turning point for me, as it fundamentally changed how I move through the world.
Like that day back in January 1982, when I read her words, they landed powerfully.
"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage."
Vulnerability creates deeper, more authentic connections...
Because the truth sets everyone free.
And because courage brings out the best in us, while inspiring others to do the same.
So what does vulnerability look like for us both personally and professionally?
First of all, let me say what it is NOT.
Vulnerability is not...
Oversharing, indiscriminate disclosure, processing our "stuff" in front of our clients, or sharing the terribleness of our experiences to elicit a dramatic shock and awe response.
Vulnerability without boundaries, Brown says, is not vulnerability at all. Rather it is "confession, manipulation, and desperation" and it actually creates discomfort, distancing, and disconnection.
Embracing "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure" ... according to Brown.
Vulnerability will look differently for each of us, but here are some of the ways it might look…
- Standing up for yourself.
- Saying NO.
- Asking for help.
- Sharing an unpopular opinion with a friend or in a blog post.
- Being on camera for a Facebook LIVE.
- Going on a first date after divorce.
- Saying "I love you" first and not knowing if it will be reciprocated.
- "Probing the pain" with a prospective client.
- Telling a prospect what the investment is to work with you.
- Launching your website.
- Going to a new meetup group.
- Waiting for the results of a biopsy.
- Admitting you’re afraid.
- Setting boundaries with a client who calls all the time.
- Being accountable.
- Asking for forgiveness.
- Trying again after failing.
- Doing your first webinar.
- Having a difficult conversation with your partner.
- Speaking from the stage… even when you didn’t lose the ten pounds you wanted to.
The rewards of vulnerability are clear...
Brown says vulnerability is the catalyst for compassion, courage, connection and creativity. All hallmarks of what Brown calls "Wholehearted" men and women… who attribute everything - from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments - to their ability to be vulnerable.
What does vulnerability look like for me?
Where have I avoided vulnerability in my life?
Where can I choose to be more vulnerable in my life?
I encourage you to take just one vulnerable step this week - have the hard conversation; make yourself more visible; try again; put that stake in the ground; set those boundaries; say what you really feel, even if unpopular, and notice how you feel as a result.
My hope, is that you’ll feel the freedom that only comes when you choose to be vulnerable in the face of uncertainty, and that that will unlock for you a greater experience of compassion, courage, connection and creativity.
Here’s to the power of vulnerability.