Eric Krueger

What Vulnerability Is (And Isn't)

⏲ 3-minute read | last updated 2 months ago

Courage is Calling
(Photo Credit: DALL·E 3)

Vulnerability is the fear of doing something, but the courage to do it anyway, but we get this wrong sometimes.

Brené Brown brought the term into the zeitgeist with her TED Talk 13 years ago, and since then it’s been the subject of tweets, explainer videos, podcasts, and blog articles (hey, how meta!). It even launched her series of popular books.

This is, overall, a fantastic achievement. Vulnerability used to have a negative connotation like weak, fragile, and delicate. Brown changed that. Now it's authenticity, connection, and courage. That's no small feat - so thanks, Brené. Seriously.

Venting (What Vulnerability Isn't)

But for all the new vulnerability aficionados out there learning and exploring its (many) benefits, pay special attention. There's a trend to overshare intimate details about a vulnerable topic with your conversational partner. It more closely resembles venting, not vulnerability. The impetus, guise, and intention is (usually) vulnerability; but what comes out is something…less. Rather than a healthy exchange of authenticity and the connection it fosters, it imparts the dull thud of mild to moderate anxiety or ambivalence.

Why? Because vulnerability is not venting.

Remember: vulnerability is the fear of doing something, but the courage to do it anyway. Fear is an essential part of courage; or as put more poetically by Anne Lamott "courage is fear that has said its prayers". The confrontation between the two is what makes an act courageous and worthy of the title: vulnerability.

So ask yourself, does what you're sharing demand courage? Is there a fear or uncertainly associated with it? If the answer is no, you might be venting - and there are better strategies to handle that.

Leadership (What Vulnerability Is)

Vulnerability is showing up authentically - it requires a high degree of self-awareness. While it may appear on the surface as a weakness, this self-awareness is a competitive advantage in leadership. Those who possess it have the Swiss Army knife of tools to enact change in their organization, or (if necessary) in themselves.

From this excellent article by Gali Cooks:

The most effective leaders tolerate a degree of personal vulnerability in the service of leading organizations with integrity, authenticity, and accountability. Researcher Brené Brown (Daring Greatly) has found that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change,” and that “courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” This stance helps leaders create a culture where growth is the goal, not perfection.

Self-awareness and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. They feed off each other in a positive cycle. As we learn more about ourselves (self-awareness), we become more confident in presenting authentically to the world (vulnerability). The more we allow our true selves to be seen (more vulnerability), the better we come to know who we are (more self-awareness).

Both are key to authentic and courageous living and relationships.


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