I heard Dr. Brene Brown give a speech on the topic of vulnerability in a TEDTalk. She made the point that to be vulnerable is to have real strength and not just the old-fashioned muscle strength. From personal experience, Dr. Brown related that getting in touch with her extensive emotional palate allowed her to realize a more creative and fulfilling life.
Dr. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has been studying shame, fear, and vulnerability for 12 years. From her research and study, Dr. Brown posits that vulnerability holds the key to emotional intimacy, overcoming shame and releasing your creative powers.
Ever notice that most of the time we cannot name our deepest fears? Can you name your fears? If you ask any random person, they would probably give you a variety of responses off the top of their heads. By the way, intimacy is only one of those fears. We’re afraid of being ordinary; we’re afraid of being joyful (it’s so fleeting and anyway bad stuff always happens right after you are feeling happy); we’re afraid of being embarrassed, of being labeled a failure, of expressing an opinion which might be rejected, and we’re afraid we will be denied recognition or passed over for someone who someone else deems more worthy. Can we ever be brave enough to show up in life and truly be accountable for who we are, make the choices that will bring us joy. Or do we want to forever feel the shame of not being enough for ourselves or for others? Forget “others.” It’s more important to show up for ourselves. When we show up, opportunities seem to come out of the wood work, don’t you know.
What’s the big deal about accepting our vulnerability? Being vulnerable isn’t that tragic like it would be worse to live out real tragedy in a Shakespearean play or even more worse to find yourself in a Woody Allen melodrama. Now that’s tragic! Face it: we’re human and human nature being what it is we are tentative and afraid of the unknown. OMG! What’s behind that decision we are making? What’s going to happen to me if I choose X or Y? I’ve got to know the outcome before the decision making process starts to roll out otherwise…
How do we surrender to being emotionally openly honest? Is there a secret formula?
Embracing vulnerability is a challenging journey because we are engaging the unconscious – the hidden secrets of our soul. Who wants to search your innermost being, study your dreams when seeing your shadow self – the person we think we know, the person we are mindlessly more comfortable with – is only the tiniest part of your magnificent being? Why leave a perfectly satisfying comfort zone when being authentic can be too scary to think about because what’s on the other side of that person? Maybe you’re missing the opportunity to be the best that you can be.
In a profound sense, embracing vulnerability is the path to living a joyful and fulling life. Being joyful is a pretty cool place to be. It’s a different feeling in body and mind and why would you want to be any other place in your life but sitting in joy?
I was driving to UCLA the other day on my way to teach a yoga class and I was feeling not like I ordinarily feel. It was a strange and wonderful feeling. What’s up with me, I asked myself? Who is this woman driving slowly down Sunset to the Wooden Center? She usually drives like a bat out of hell. I immediately thought – “wow, I’m feeling so grateful for my life, my family, my gifts, my friends, my opportunities and all my successes and failures.” That’s who I am today. It’s a good feeling. After that a few moments, I then realized, suddenly that I can name my feeling – JOY. Pure joy! I had no defensive barriers up at that moment, my mind wasn’t running on amuck, I was clear, I was present, I was conscious and had no need of self-protective defensive mechanisms.
One of the core values of my speech on self-reflection – a stronger mind/body/spirit connection – is to recognize and accept vulnerability. To be vulnerable is one of my mind-fuel tools for life renewal because it is one of the ways of affirming our life; it’s a way to find the courage to make bold choices and make glorious mistakes and plenty of leaps of faith. Along the way, notice how affirmation and courage leads us to creativity. It’s a paradox, really: at the moment we become emotionally honest creativity takes hold, our imaginations soar, and we are open to new and exciting ideas. But if we fear failure or embarrassment and put on a suit of armor for self-protection, we’ll lose the opportunity to bring choice, strength and passion into our lives. It’s a challenge for us to take a leap of faith and be willing to make glorious mistakes and embrace vulnerability because if we don’t, we’ll never be able to pursue our passions and our dreams.
Michael Jordan took his vulnerability to a new level. He said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” This is the true paradox of vulnerability.