Being Vulnerable-A Source Of Strength
February 8, 2020
It was early 2018, I was attending a Global Leadership Program in Singapore where 50 of us- senior business leaders were in the middle of a session discussing the theme of Vulnerability and Leadership.
In that session, we were invited to share with the group, something that we had done-personal or work related- that we were ashamed of or embarrassed about. The idea was to take us out of our comfort zone to experience vulnerability.
I found the myself become uncomfortable by the minute as very senior colleagues of mine started sharing their respective stories. I could sense the discomfort that every one of them was having, in putting their story out there.
50 of us , we were all huddled around listening to one another in this personal and intimate setting.
As others were relating their stories, I was formulating my thought process. The chatter in my head was going ” No way am I going to share those “3 incidents” . Yeah, I’ll go with that. It is innocuous enough “
I can say it today. In my life so far, I have done a few things I am absolutely not proud of.
But that day, I had no intention of sharing anything real. I decided that I will share one reasonably innocuous but true incident with as much emotion as I can bring up, just so that I appear authentic.
It was my turn. I can’t explain it, its just a blur-something happened. Maybe it was the power of the setting or the stories that came before me-Some switch went off in my head- Against my own good judgement I started talking about a business decision I had taken about a decade back that I was not proud about. As I started narrating the context of that action and why it was something I was not proud of, I broke down choking in the despair of my own shameful memories and emotions. I was surrounded by the Top leaders of the organisation and I was sobbing and crying. Much as I tried controlling my emotions, I could not. Through the veil of my tears I could sense every one of my colleagues grappling with their own emotions unsure about how to deal with an adult crying openly !!.
After what seemed like an eternity, I cried myself dry. There were no more tears. I felt a deep sense of catharsis. There were repressed emotions pertaining to the memory of that business decision and they had washed out.
I also felt deep embarrassment for the discomfort I caused all my dear colleagues. They were all wonderful. All of them hugged me, embraced me and told me how courageous I was in opening my self up and being vulnerable. I did not know how to react.
The session was on vulnerability. After my public breakdown , vulnerability was the last thing on my mind. How could I have been so weak as to cry in a public setting? I just wanted to get away and be to myself to figure out what happened and why did it happen.
I got back to Kuala Lumpur. As I started looking for content on vulnerability, I came across this Ted Talk by Brené Brown on the same subject.
For the first time after the incident I could relate to and understand for myself what had happened.
I always thought, being vulnerable was a sign of weakness. This talk opened my mind to the what it actually is-
As humans we all crave connection and validation of the people around us. When there is something we are not proud of or we are ashamed of- we are actually trapped by the fear of being disconnected. Is there something about me which if people get to know or see- I will not be worthy of the connection, the respect, the validation.
In my case, that incident was hiding in my subconscious memory, behind the façade of shame.
Something in the moment of that leadership session had catalyzed my subconscious mind to reveal the truth. My true nature was rebelling against my own shame to tell the story out.
Brene says Vulnerability is the act of embracing uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Demonstrating Vulnerability is an act of pure courage. It is also the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change.
To create or do something new requires us to soak in the uncertainty, the risk of judgement and the possibility of failure. If I am OK being vulnerable, I unleash my creativity, innovation and change.
What does being vulnerable look like for me today.
- Being comfortable in my own skin to tell my son or my young colleague that I am wrong if they point something that I don’t like about myself.
- Having the grace to say “sorry” to my wife if I have unwittingly said something hurtful
- Taking responsibility for something that may not be working .
- Dancing with gay abandon at my nieces wedding despite the voice in my head asking me to be proper.
- Be willing to acknowledge that I am not the smartest person in the room and shutting up to listen to those around me.
As I write this post, I am feeling extremely uncertain and uncomfortable particularly since my kids also follow my Blog. There is a voice telling me , they may not get it. But, I’ll still go ahead and put this out. I’ll have the last hurrah over my discomfort!! I will be vulnerable.