The Authenticity of Vulnerability
It’s hard to have a conversation about vulnerability these days without mentioning Brene Brown and her work. She deserves a lot of the credit for bringing the discussion about vulnerability into the forefront of the American consciousness with her popular TED talks and books on the subject. For people like me, who are trying to live as a more authentic version of themselves, vulnerability lies at the core of what we’re attempting to do.
In my journey to live my life more authentically it was inevitable that I would stumble upon vulnerability. And boy did I stumble, much like Brene Brown herself did. Even when the obvious truth presented that living my life from an authentic place demanded that I show up in vulnerability, I still fought it. The realization that tipped me onto the other side of my struggle with vulnerability was that people don’t share their souls with those who project perfection and those who seem to be untouched by the struggles of life. And their soul was what I was looking for: I wanted to touch that depth of realness in a person. I wanted to hear what inspired them, the turning points in their lives, the beliefs that shaped them and who was meaningful in their life. I also wanted to hear their substance, their struggles. I realized that if I wanted to hear those stories from other people, I had to share my own stories like that, and many times I had to go first. But to go first is to risk rejection and to risk someone looking at you like they can’t believe you just said what you said. The sensitive introvert in me would much rather let the other person reach out to me first, to put themselves in the vulnerable position, because at that point I can choose to say yes to their offer, while already knowing that they want to connect with me.
Many of us struggle with vulnerability as it can go against the very core of some of our strongly held beliefs, namely that vulnerability is weakness. I know that I oscillate between wanting to share my vulnerability with others and not sharing it because it’s scary. Sometimes it feels like being vulnerable is the exact opposite of what we feel we should be doing- we should be bolstering ourselves up, looking more powerful, more perfect, more invincible. That’s how we impress people, get more friends, clients, connections, whatever it is we’re looking for, right? But I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. It’s very difficult to connect with people in any sort of meaningful fashion unless you’re willing to risk vulnerability. What if in our vulnerability we really are more beautiful? What if in that flash of uncertainty, flow of emotion, or struggle, we are more human and more whole, and more connected to others? What does that mean for our lives?
Here’s what I do know about vulnerability, from personal experience. When we show up as our vulnerable selves, and are honest about our struggles and our imperfections, we inspire others to do the same. Public speaking is not a comfortable arena for me, but I recently signed up for a public speaking workshop. At the end of the day we were invited up to speak in front of the group: we could tell some basic generic facts about our lives or we could tell a story. I was one of the first to speak. I opened with the revelation that I generally only speak from a script, but I’d decided to “wing it” and tell a bit of the story of my journey of losing myself and then finding myself again. It was raw and vulnerable for me, both the subject matter and the unscriptedness of it. When each subsequent person got up, they also told a raw and vulnerable personal story. The experience was very powerful and we were all transfixed. The feedback that I got from another speaker was that because I had gotten up and shared in such a personal way, it had given her the courage to do it as well.
So what is it to show up and be vulnerable, to risk connection and rejection, to truly see someone and be seen? We don’t just wake up one day and decide to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a moment to moment choice. It takes practice. There is a paradox to be held here, and that is to be strong in ourselves we can be vulnerable. I think about the people that I really admire. And it’s those who choose to show up fully, to share themselves. Those who share their truth, even when it’s not pretty, or popular. And it’s a truth shared not for attention, not for pity, but for the sheer beauty of showing up and living a whole, authentic life and inspiring others to do the same.
Thanks Heather for your beautifully written- and for me- timely piece. I am presenting tomorrow on creativity and mindfulness to an Insight Meditation group. I appreciate your reminder that choosing to do so with openness and vulnerability is an option. Setting aside perfection/self judgement as I prepare is a good beginning.