All right, here we go. Time to dive in. Be forewarned, you may want to be sitting down before you read this. Still here? Okay, then let’s get into some vulnerability.
Let me begin by acknowledging publicly that I blame Brené Brown for this whole vulnerability thing that’s going on. Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, has become one of the most viewed TED talks, approaching 27 million views as of the time of writing this blog. Oh yes, and I also absolutely love her for that talk as well. I recommend it to people all the time, and know I’ve watched it more times than the average Joe. At the heart (pun intended) of her talk, what spoke most to me was how we’ve warped what vulnerability means.
What It Is and Isn’t
The Oxford dictionary defines vulnerability as, ‘the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.’ It comes from the Latin word, vulnerare, which means ‘to inflict wound’ or ‘wound/injure/harm.’
Quite often when we think about vulnerability, we collapse it with some meaning or connection to being weak, or not strong. Brené’s talk challenged that, and she opened me up to more clearly recognizing that to be vulnerable requires a great deal of strength. For those that might not have bought into that idea, I invite you to watch her talk. Let me also provide an example for you; imagine if a good friend of yours comes to you and shares something that has been troubling them, or they share that they’ve been hurt. After they’ve shared, do you now view them as weak for having shared what they did? I’m guessing that you don’t. In fact, you may appreciate the courage it took for them to share what they did, because it left them open to being harmed if you had reacted negatively to them.
Now flip the script. Think about a time when you’ve had something bothering or troubling you. Depending upon your level of comfort with vulnerability, you may have hesitated or not shared it with anyone. Why? Perhaps you thought that doing so would seem to imply weakness on your part. So why the double standard? In others, we see vulnerability as strength, yet for ourselves we associate it with weakness. This is where Brené’s talk shifted my perspective and began a major transformation in my life, though it was just getting started.
My Path to Vulnerability
Let’s be clear, I didn’t go down this path of vulnerability willingly or peacefully. I fought it. Hard.
However, I have to acknowledge a few things that have helped create the ability for me to get to where I am. First and foremost, I want to acknowledge my amazing mother for laying the foundation for my ability to be vulnerable. I recognize her influence in my life more and more with each passing year, and I know unequivocally that she was the initial ingredient in this vulnerability stew I’m savoring.
Another ingredient was my discovery of coaching. I found my way to it several years ago, and in going through my training with The Coaches Training Institute I really began to better understand how connecting with vulnerability allowed me to access a strength I hadn’t previously recognized.
In February of 2016 I attended the Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., and was humbled by the incredible vulnerability that was shown, whether consciously or not, by a group of amazing men (and women) who were passionate about being the best damn dads they could be. In sharing their stories, in conversations, or simply just being there to support other dads trying to have meaningful impact in their families, it was humbling to witness, and I knew I’d found one of my tribes.
One of the final ingredients, and one that added the flavoring and spice to the whole mix, was my Leadership journey over the last year. I’ve written about my Wild Turkeys in the past, and get used to the fact that you’ll likely be hearing about Leadership again. It’s not simply a program that you ‘do’ and then get back to life; it transforms you and how you show up in it, and becomes a part of who you are. Or rather, I think it wakes you up to who you really are. The primary reason I mention Leadership here, is that part of the program is about recognizing Leader Quests you want to bring forth into the world. If you are interested in learning more about the Co-Active Leadership model, check out this book.
Initially I thought my Leader Quest was around fatherhood, and shifting the way that fatherhood has changed into what it is today. That hasn’t changed, it’s still a part of the work I’m bringing into the world, yet I’ve also realized that the deeper part is around vulnerability. In particular, I want to open up the conversation with men around vulnerability and what gets in the way of us as men being more vulnerable with each other.
Because of this new quest, I’ve started reaching out to other men, and invited them to have a conversation with me about the subject. It’s been scary, putting myself out there in this way, and I’ve realized that it’s about as close to embodying vulnerability that it can be. Putting it out to complete strangers (via Facebook and other outlets) to invite men, some who have never met me, to talk with me about being vulnerable? Yup, big gulp moment. I’ve had some amazing conversations as well as a result, and am humbled by the courage and vulnerability displayed by those same men who were willing to talk with me about this subject that we as men often aren’t taught to talk about. Want to learn more about that? Check out the film, The Mask You Live In, created by the Representation Project.
The other day I spoke with a gentleman on the East Coast, and as we were talking about how he defined vulnerability, what he shared really resonated with me. He viewed vulnerability as a willingness to place yourself in a position where you may get hurt, and that it was necessary in order to create that fundamental connection that we all want and need. I couldn’t agree more.
The adventure continues. I’ll continue reaching out to other men to talk about vulnerability. I’ll also leave an open invitation here; if you’re interested in taking a little time out of your day and participating, I’d love to talk with you about this subject.
I committed to my coach that I was going to do it, I will be reaching out to Brené Brown to see if I can talk with her about her research. Yeah, I’m asking myself why the hell I said I’d do that. So consider yourself warned, Brené. (Because of course we’re on a first name basis, despite the fact that she has no idea who I am. Yet.)
I’m also back on the TEDx warpath. I’ve been applying to speak at events across North America, and will continue to do so until I get a chance to share my idea worth sharing. If you know someone interested in talking with me about presenting, I’d love the introduction. I think it’s a conversation that is long overdue, and is going to help a lot of men step into an element of themselves that many have been brought up to ignore or suppress.
Lastly, I’ll continue to lean in to vulnerability. Especially when it feels hard or uncomfortable. Sometimes I’ll be more successful than others, and I ask that you have patience with me, as I will do with you. Vulnerability is strength, and I understand that now in ways I hadn’t before. I now know that vulnerability is the key to unlocking powerful connection.
What’s your relationship with vulnerability? Where could leaning in to it create more connection in your life? What impact has it had in your life? Feel free to comment below.