A week ago at my studio's Grand Opening Party, a friend gifted me the book, "Daring Greatly" by Brene' Brown. I was already a fan of Brene' for her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, that you may have seen on my video list. She starts the book, which centers on vulnerability and how it effects our lives, by saying, "Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it's understanding the necessity of both; it's engaging. It's being all in...Our only choice is a question of engagement." Being the leadership junkie that I am, I was thrilled by the book's preface, but I was also struck with an immediate thought: When did this become a problem? Vulnerability is a word that incites fear in most people. I can spend hours reading books and articles that center around the very topic and the struggle to become or remain vulnerable in relationships. Half (if not all) of the books I read while I was engaged centered around being vulnerable with your spouse. Healthy communication in business, at it's core, requires vulnerability and honesty. Sales, counseling, and conflict resolution are all done successfully by those who have the ability to be open and authentic. So, why are we afraid of it? What made us scared to be all in?
I believe that we are scared to be vulnerable because we've all experienced vulnerability gone wrong. Essentially, we tried, we failed, and we tapped out. Some things in life are frightening with no experience necessary. I don't need to experience a shark bite to realize that it's probably not going to be my cup of tea. Nothing about it sounds inviting, so it can automatically earn a spot on my fear list. But being honest with someone, having someone really know who you are, and being able to express yourself with confidence? That sounds inviting. That sounds like a great way to build relationships. It sounds like something that most of us, if we're honest, want to experience. So, how did it make it on the fear list? Because, one day, each one of us decided to open up about something that really mattered, and someone let us down.
I have lost more friendships because I decided to speak up than because I decided to stay silent. I am not someone who inherently struggles with showing who they are. However, I would be lying if I said that those failed relationships didn't have a major impact on my ability to be all in with other people. I can pinpoint specific instances where I shared something private with a trusted friend, and they turned around and shared it elsewhere. We have all experienced the heartbreak of believing that we are loved and finding out that we aren't by someone that we valued. As Brown put it, "Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging." Who among us hasn't had someone make us feel unworthy?
To change the vulnerability problem in our culture, I believe more is required than just being "all in". I believe we have to start being receptive to the vulnerability of others. We long for connection, so most of us will eventually open up and share in a moment of what we consider to be "weakness". However, these instances are often few and far between because of the reaction of the listener. How often do we hear someone share a piece of their story and we turn a deaf ear? Even more, how often do we quickly jump to judgement or comparison when a friend tells us about a shortcoming? It's so easy to use someone else's vulnerability to reinforce your own insecurities.
Let's make a goal in 2015 to encourage vulnerability and be receptive to it on a daily basis. To encourage openness, we must be open. To encourage honestly, we must be honest. Sugar-coating your emotions will only give everyone around you a stomach ache. We have to stop letting someone else's struggles define the way we measure our own successes.