I really had no intention of looking into this topic. In fact, I was doing research into leadership. You know, problem solving, time management, team motivation, training tips…Who would have thought when I looked into great leadership I’d come across this virtue: vulnerability.
I didn’t like that idea. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, able to explain things with logic, a hard worker, and — most of all — not weak.
It’s good to know I was a product of my culture
Add to my predisposition a background working with law enforcement and it’s no wonder vulnerability — physical, mental or emotional — was far from my mind.
Like all things I decide to look into, I started with the basics. According to Merriam Webster, vulnerable was ultimately derived from the Latan vulnus, meaning to “wound”. It is defined as:
Capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage.
The mindset was further solidified when I found an article in Psychology Today that says vulnerability (physical, emotional or existential) in our culture is equated to something shameful or a weakness to keep hidden or avoided.
Yup, that was what I believed for years. With my highly-protective boundaries and self-sufficiency attitude, I avoided it like the plague.
What was my hangup, you ask?
Like most people, my issue was with hurt. Emotional and relational hurt. I don’t recall any “one incident,” but I do recall some tough childhood moments. Growing up in small back-woods towns in Quebec, Canada, my family was quite unpopular with the local town-folk. Blame it on the fact that my mother was American. And that my sisters and I were home schooled. And Christian. All in all, I came to understand racism and social rejection quickly.
So like many young people, I decided I would stand against vulnerability in all its forms. I get it — we all want to avoid hurt. It’s physically and emotionally uncomfortable and draining. The trauma can have lasting effects that follow you around for years or sometimes your entire life. And since I was on a mission to be as strong as possible, there simply wasn’t room for vulnerability in my life.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that avoiding vulnerability is nearly impossible.
According to psychologists, it’s an innate human trait that we can’t completely avoid. And running from it not only prevents us from being able to understand the grief of others, it also prevents us from accepting help when life gets hard. Humans are made for connection and no one can be completely self-sufficient. In fact, trying to do so can have harmful effects on our psyche.
So when I happened upon the topic of vulnerability in great leadership, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. That being weak would make me a strong leader. In fact, Brené Brown, a researcher who studied the topic for 12 years, says that believing vulnerability is a weakness is a dangerous myth.
See, the true practice of vulnerability isn’t about being weak.
It’s about connection and engagement. It’s about living in a way that we are invested without relying on emotional or mental walls to protect ourselves. To be fully present and active in the moment, regardless of how uncomfortable it is, and not using our defenses to avoid the discomfort. And largely, to intentionally lean into those hard things when they come up.
That doesn’t mean intentionally looking for those hard things. Just to not run away from them, seeking resolution instead of avoidance, and having the courage to face down failure without letting it deter you.
THAT picture of vulnerability is something I can get behind.