In Search of Vulnerability

Okay, here I am. I’m blue. I’m feeling aimless. Without purpose. And I found this today when I went searching for something else.

A few million people have already seen this. Lots of them have commented so I don’t know whether I’m offering anything new. But it doesn’t really matter. Brené Brown connected with me today on several levels. Here are two:

Thought #1: People who are happy with themselves have courage, compassion and connection with others. They connect because they allow themselves to be who they are in all their imperfectness. They are authentic.

I’m intrigued with this word, “authentic” because I’m doing a lot of work on leadership right now and have been researching “authentic leadership”. Authentic leadership is a relatively new way of thinking about leadership. There’s not a lot of validated research on it yet but it makes a lot of sense to me. And the work so far suggests that society – at least, North American society – is crying out for authentic leaders.

This above all – to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

– from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The theory proposes that we are looking for leaders who are true to their morals and values and who recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They are willing to hear other points of view with an open mind and will make change if it makes sense. But not if it means compromising those morals and values. They are also willing to be honest about their capabilities and to support others with greater capability. (This is a very simple explanation of what it means to be an authentic leader. If you’re keen to know more, click here.)

Brown’s understanding of being authentic would seem to mesh. If she is correct in saying authenticity comes from personal courage and compassion (especially towards yourself in your imperfectness), it’s that authenticity that allows a human being to truly connect with others. And connection with others has long been known as a basic human need on the path to personal fulfillment.

So why then do we lack authentic leaders? Extrapolating from Brown, because of shame and fear. The shame of being rejected for being our authentic selves. And the fear of what that rejection will mean to how we live our lives. An authentic leader risks rejection every day. Rejection hurts. Better not to be vulnerable.

But happiness comes from vulnerability. Does this mean that the majority of leaders today, regardless of where or who they lead, are fundamentally unhappy in their roles? End of (incomplete) thought #1. A left brain kind of thought.

Thought #2: Brown’s research showed that people who are “whole-hearted” are okay with vulnerability. In it, they find beauty, not discomfort. They are the people who aren’t afraid to say, “I love you,” first. That struck such a chord. (I watched most of Brown’s Ted Talk in tears.)

When Sweetie and I first began to see each other, he wore his heart on his sleeve. He was the first to say, “I love you.” It took me months to be willing to take that risk. I could argue that I had lots of good reasons. But the truth is that he wasn’t afraid to be authentic and never has been. I have been afraid for what seems like forever. And even after a few years of therapy where I have admittedly made good progress – I am happier today than I have ever been – and I work hard to let my real, authentic self be seen, it doesn’t come easily. I am still a perfectionist. The fact that I have to work at it at all suggests I have a way to go.

I have a little mantra I sometimes say to myself:

With this day I smile.

24 brand new hours are before me.

I vow to live fully in every moment

And to view all beings with eyes of compassion.

And that includes me. End of almost-complete limbic-brain thought #2.

*Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions:

How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?


About saxbergonstuff

I'm a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter, an auntie. When I'm not focusing on that, I'm an educator, facilitator and content designer. When I feel like it.
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One Response to In Search of Vulnerability

  1. Allan Gofenko says:

    Thumbs up.

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