Coinciding with a lightbulb moment along this journey, I discovered the wonderful work of Brene Brown. Brene calls herself a storyteller/researcher and for the past decade she has studied the concept of vulnerability. You can read more about her work at her website, here. In 2010 Brene presented her landmark talk on the power of vulnerability at the annual TED conference and the video has since had more than nine million hits. You can find it here.
Brene’s presentation confirmed much of what I had come to understand about my own vulnerability.
I’m not sure where it came from, for my father was not particularly macho, but my firm belief up until my late thirties was that vulnerability represented weakness and was to be avoided at all costs. I suppose hand in hand with that philosophy was that if connections happened then all well and good, but essentially that was only a bi-product of getting a job done. This worked for me for about a decade and a half as I focused my energies in making it in the business world. Looking back at that time, it worked because I backed my business skills and didn’t feel any real risk in putting those skills out there. I knew I was the real deal and had the goods to prove it.
But, and this is a big but, it’s not what I was doing in my personal life. For some reason, I didn’t back myself in that sphere, spent a lot of time seeking approval and my personal connections suffered. So having woken up I went on a quest to strengthen my existing personal connections and to better understand how to make succesful connections. As Brene says in the video, humans are hard-wired for connection, it gives purpose and meaning to our lives. To show you how far I have come, I have no shame in admiting I had little clue about connections back then. Those I had were principally because the other people were great connectors and to them I am eternally grateful for deciding to invest in me and for teaching me about vulnerability.
I now know and understand that to connect you have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to go forth in the world with your authentic self without any guarantee that you will be accepted and not get hurt. Authenticity was never the issue, but rather the making of the first move. I have since come to understand that not everyone will accept you, but if they do not then firstly, it says more about them than you and secondly, these experiences teach you courage.
Type A alpha personalities have never been at the top of my list. Although probably a gross over generalisation, most alphas I have encountered are quite scared underneath. This results in some undesirable behaviours and the energy required to keep up the alpha front must be tremendous. Give me a guy or girl with a quiet strength who is not afraid to show their vulnerability or who is prepared to make themselves vulnerable by acknowledging the contribution of others and I’ll take them any day of the week over the alpha types. To me there is an attractiveness in vulnerability, probably because it comes from a place of authenticity rather than bravado. Vulnerability speaks and is an ingredient of commonality. How many times have you been in a situation where you have been introduced to someone and once you get talking they admit to some small imperfection or action that was ineffective and you immediately feel closer to that person? I have many times, for usually I think if he or she sounds too good to be true, he or she probably is.
In her video, Brene mentions the struggle with vulnerability and that most people deal with it by numbing their emotions. The problem as she points out is that you can’t selectively just numb the bad emotions, by numbing you end up muting joy, gratitude and happiness as well. And how do we numb? As Brene points out we do it by:
- trying to make the uncertain, certain – think religion and politics
- perfecting, for example our bodies, our children – our job as parents is not to give them a perfect life, but to prepare them to deal with an imperfect life
- pretending that what we do does not affect others
I have since chosen to be prepared to make the first move in forming a connection, without any guarantee of success. I’d rather chance a negetive response than become comfortable in my disconnectedness. I’d also rather chance the relationship ending than never having the opportunity to have it in the first place.
I therefore choose risk, mess and vulnerability and by doing so I choose to add grey and colour to my life over only black and white and feeling over numbness.
Today, I give myself permission to be vulnerable.