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Courage in vulnerability

Why we admire people who show vulnerability, yet don't do it ourselves.

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I started writing this post yesterday, a day before Gareth Thomas, the Welsh international rugby player spoke out about living with HIV, describing himself as feeling “extremely vulnerable”. Yet Gareth probably never predicted the outpouring of love and support he would receive in return for laying himself bare in front of the world.

It got me thinking about why we don’t show our vulnerabilities more, yet we admire those that do. Some of the most inspiring people I can think of have shown us their vulnerability – Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Malala Yousafzaï, Greta Thunberg to name just a few.

In a recent meeting with a client I decided I needed to open up more about my background. Leaving the meeting I felt more vulnerable than I had ever done in my professional life. Had I over-shared? Had I lost credibility? Two hours later my phone rang and I was asked to work with them.

In her now world-renowned TED talk The Power in Vulnerability’ Dr. Brené Brown asks us to reconsider vulnerability, and instead see it as our superpower.

Brown describes our vulnerabilities as rooted in fear. A fear held by many of us that we are not good enough, worthy enough, or important enough. A belief that forms one of the basis of many conditions including imposter syndrome, anxieties, and stress disorders.

Today’s world, on social media and in the workplace, is full of contradictions. We are expected to be more open than ever – revealing our daily life on Instragram, thoughts on Twitter, and professional opinions on LinkedIn. Yet how many of us are showing our less than perfect and vulnerable self? Or are we presenting a version of ourselves wrapped up in layers of expectation laid down by others telling us what we should be doing, saying, or looking like.

The word vulnerable comes from the latin word vulnus, meaning wound. To be vulnerable means being open to being wounded physically or emotionally. The thing is, we are all born vulnerable, and are all susceptible to being wounded, despite the defences we might put up. It is fundamental part of what being human is. When I work with coaching clients I often do an exercise with them where we strip away the layers – the titles, the roles, the accolades, the names they and other people call them. The most common inner layer I find?

Fear.

The reason we admire people who show vulnerability is because we all recognise the courage it takes to do it. Because we too know it would take that same courage to give our own vulnerability a voice.
But how amazingly powerful it can be when we do.

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