The magic of vulnerability

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Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” ~ Brené Brown

 If aliens were to secretly land in my backyard tonight and ask me to provide information about being human in 20 minutes, I’d offer the video I linked above, which you must, and I mean absolutely must watch.

(and yes, you have to also watch the one on vulnerability: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html)

I realize the topic is not very endearing at first sight, but trust me, this is funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s comforting and provocative at the same time. After you watch the videos, you’ll understand. This one in particular will touch you greatly, because I am fairly certain that just like me, my friends and clients, you too know of struggle with the threat of weakness…that mis-label so often applied to vulnerability.

Brené Brown does a fantastic job (without any academic pretentiousness) explaining the essential role of vulnerability in our lives. And she explains shame (aka our fear of weakness) in the context of the roles we feel compelled to fulfill and expectations we look to meet within pre-established boundaries of gender and culture, not to mention our biological programming.

Why is all this so important?

Because for example, to succeed is to fail, and many times. Because to be authentic is to be naked and imperfect and vulnerable. Because to connect is to allow another to see us when we are authentic, and naked, and imperfect, and vulnerable. Because weakness is not the absence of failure or vulnerability, but the exact opposite…the refusal to accept and embrace both.

I find myself returning to watch bits of the video over and over again as I write this. It has stirred so many memories of moments when I have felt so pathetic and weak for being unable to conform to what was, or at least I thought was, expected of me. For example, times when I’ve been hurt, yet instead of anger and accusations, I found myself having only more love and trust to offer. Or times when I have failed, yet I was proud of having reached beyond my comfort zone and learned.

Surely there was something very wrong with me…I was not only weak, but also delusional. Of course I couldn’t be ok with what I felt, because in the ‘real world’, people who’ve been hurt get angry, self-righteous and point fingers, not to mention build up walls to protect themselves better next time. It’s the “mature” thing to do! As for people who fail, they must feel horrible about it because failure is a very bad thing. Nobody throws a failure party!

So I tried to conform. What’s most interesting, and until tonight remained very confusing on many levels is that the conflict with conformity has worsened in direct proportion to my intellectual, emotional and spiritual evolution. In other words, the stronger I got, the more vulnerable I became.

And now it makes perfect sense. I’m telling you, this woman and her research are quite something.

When we connect, we create, we risk, we show ourselves for who we are. And when we do these things, we’re vulnerable. And when we’re vulnerable, we’re not numb…we feel! And not just the pleasant, easy feelings but the other ones as well…the ones that make us uncomfortable, the ones we’ve been taught to shield ourselves from. It’s within the discomfort range that we start to doubt, judge and assign the weakness label to ourselves and others, because we’re taught that strength is not vulnerability and success is not uncertainty.

There are so many examples of how what is most beautiful and authentic in us ends up being labeled as a weakness in our own perception, and in terms of how we imagine others see us. We are so used to living life like a research project…measuring and predicting. We forget it was none other than Einstein who said that not all that counts can be counted, and not all that can be counted counts.

And so we run to the epic stories…because there, our vulnerability is recognized for what it truly is – our strength. And there… faith, love, trust and tenderness endure beyond immediate results, beyond immediate pain, beyond the implicit discomfort and chaos, beyond the inevitable imperfections and disappointments. In those stories, there is no numbness…life is lived with courage and authenticity. (So of course we ironically call these stories fiction!)

The wonderful news is that we can live like in those epic stories right here and right now. And we don’t require elves, wizards or dragons for special effects. All we need to do is recognize the value of our vulnerability.

Seriously…watch the video. It’s the best 20 minutes you will have spent doing something in a while, I guarantee. And then watch the other one too. You will smile, and you will be so glad you listened to me.

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