Taking the reader through the thinking process of why vulnerability could be inspirational and why embracing it could make us better human beings.
I recently attended a leadership forum in Dubai. As a way of introducing ourselves, all 30 of us were asked to share what inspires us. The answer that caught my attention came from a gentleman who was sitting at the back of the room. His response was, “I am inspired by vulnerability.” This took me by surprise. I associate vulnerability with weakness and I was puzzled by how anyone could be inspired by weakness. So, as I sat there, I reflected on what he could possibly mean.
Years ago, I used to obsess about being perfect and acting strong. I forbid myself from showing people my laughter, my tears, and even my nervousness. I even numbed myself from expressing feelings of affection towards others – and I became rather good at it. In my mind, such strength was inspiring, and I took the respect I received from others as proof of that.
Although I have loosened up now, I sometimes disapprove of my vulnerability, and I do miss my stronger self. I wondered if vulnerability could really be inspiring and I decided to give it some more thought.
That night, when I got home in Abu Dhabi from Dubai, I turned to a book that had sat untouched on my shelf for more than a year. “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown had been a gift from a friend that I hadn’t dared to read. It explores “how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead.”
As I read the introduction, I smiled. In it, the author quotes an excerpt from a speech by the former US President Theodore Roosevelt from which the title of the book is taken. This is my favorite speech of all time – I have had the words typed out and displayed on my desk at home for years. I knew then I was meant to read this book!
Two main points resonated with me. First, “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience,” Brown writes. So, I thought back to all that time I had spent trying to be perfect; I had built a wall between myself and the world.
I also looked back at why I changed. It is only recently that I have started to loosen up. I did so because I was filled with fear and anxiety, but mainly because I didn’t feel authentic. By becoming more authentic I realized I had learned to be vulnerable. There are times when I laugh uncontrollably, I get emotional and tear up, and my voice gets shaky when I’m nervous. I even allowed myself to love. I have come to realize that it’s OK to be human. So, I believe that is what vulnerability is about.
Second that resonated with me from Brown’s book is: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.” This made me think about how my relationships had been, and how they had improved after I decided to let my guard down a little.
I have more friends now – real, caring friends who freely share with me their joy, their sadness, their experiences good and bad, because now they can relate to me and so they trust me more.
As human beings, we live in communities and, whether we like it or not, interaction with others is a basic element of our lives. Having said that, by being open, we invite understanding and support. As a result, we can become better people and perhaps, in our own way, make the world a better place. That is inspiring. Just think of what you felt the moment a great leader teared up because of a tragedy someone else had suffered from.
Courage often connotes strength and being fearless in battle, but there is no sense in battling who you are. Instead, it takes courage to be open. When you let go of being always in control and when you let go of the exhaustion of perfectionism, you will cultivate a resilient spirit. That is also inspiring.
Do I miss my “robot” self? I must admit I do a little. It had its benefits. But I have no aspirations to return to that, because the benefits I’m getting now are much more fulfilling.
I’m not sure if the conclusion I have come to is what the gentleman meant. But I’m grateful to have got the opportunity to think deeply about this – and develop a fresh perspective on life.