How Embracing Vulnerability Will Change Your Life for the Better

Yep, that’s me in the pictures. I just put three silly selfies of myself on the internet.

Allow me to explain…

A few years ago, Brené Brown visited Vanderbilt University and talked to us about her research. A University of Houston professor, Brené is known in academic circles for her grounded theory research in the areas of shame and vulnerability.

Today Brené’s name is associated with her bestselling books including Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and most recently Dare to Lead. She is also known for Netflix special from earlier this year.

Much of her notoriety comes from a vulnerable moment of her own when she stepped on a TED Talk stage and shared her thoughts. That talk has garnered nearly 45 million views.

(That’s a lot of eyeballs!)

Brené doesn’t just study vulnerability; she practices it.

An author, and creative in her own right, she puts herself ‘out there’, opens herself up, and walks the tightrope of vulnerability.

Whether you are a writer, an artist, performer, marketer, team leader, or someone participating in a team brainstorming session, we are ALL familiar with the fear of criticism and the shame of failure.

We are also familiar with how you can fall prey to the voices of others and either grow callous and guarded OR hesitant and fearful.

“When you don’t care at all what anyone thinks, you lose the capacity to connect. If you are defined by what people say, you lose the courage to be vulnerable.” – B. Brown

In the short- and long-run, neither callousness, nor hesitation, will serve you well. Either extreme will cause you to shut yourself off, produce little, and minimize your impact.

So, how do you walk the vulnerability tightrope and continue to bring your best?

Brené’s answer to dilemma is to get a small piece of paper, 1” x 1”, and put the names of the people who’s opinions about you really matter.

  • These are the handful of people who care about you because of your limitations and weaknesses, not despite them.
  • These are the people who in the end of the day truly matter most.
  • These are the people who give you feedback that truly matters.
  • And, in many cases, these are the people who are putting themselves out there too.

Brené explains that choosing to lead, to be creative and to risk being vulnerable is like stepping into an arena – an arena where you may get beat up…

“If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on a regular basis, I am not open or interested in your feedback…” – B. Brown

Allow me to be vulnerable for a moment…

Throughout my career, I have spent weeks, months, and years traveling to cities around the world and presenting about leadership and strategy to audiences both large and small. I believe some people truly enjoy my presentations and find them valuable – perhaps even inspirational.

Others…watch the clock.

I write books and LinkedIn posts (this one marks LinkedIn article number 298). Some readers have written wonderful things about my efforts and conveyed terrific sentiments.

Others…write biting comments.

I stand in front of some of the smartest students in the world at Vanderbilt University and have some amazing colleagues. Many students tell me how much they enjoy my classes and provide solid feedback on my assessments.

Others…point to one thing I did over the course of the semester that they didn’t like.

This past summer, I started a leadership podcast. I’ve interviewed some amazing guests, learned a great deal, and have been humbled trying to figure it all out. I have also seen it grow in leaps and bounds (46% last month alone).

Frankly, much of my work intimidates me.

I often feel vulnerable.

One negative comment has historically had the potential to cause me to bobble, to knock me off my trajectory.

Creating my 1″ x 1″ list has helped me put things in perspective. Gave me a filter through which to read comments. Provided me the confidence to continue getting back into the arena.

I embrace being vulnerable, simply because it is what allows me to improve, learn, and stretch myself.

So, who’s on your 1” x 1” piece of paper?