By Cathy Wasserman
IMAGINE WHAT THE WORLD WOULD BE LIKE IF…
...your vulnerabilities, not just your strengths, were very valuable to you and others. In this world, it would be understood that everyone has vulnerabilities and each of us would have the opportunity and encouragement to face them, extracting the important information they contain. You would feel no need to conceal or repress yours because your fellow humans would assure you that a) they’re inspired, energized and empathetic about your sharing your truth, b) they’re claiming their own vulnerabilities, and c) they have no desire to use your candor against you, instead they would value learning about what makes you tick and, when possible, take extra care around your soft spots.
I define vulnerabilities as your fears, frustrations, triggers, limits, blocks and growing edges — attitudes, skills, and knowledge areas you need to build.
In this ideal world, everyone would have support to better understand and grow from their vulnerabilities. You wouldn’t be pressured to perform tasks you’re not suited to, nor would you be punished or left behind for admitting your limitations. You would not only have the confidence that facing your challenges is beneficial to your growth, but that it’s a valued part of helping others in doing the same. You would know that you’re living in a culture where everyone can own and call on their full self to connect more deeply and contribute more.
Wouldn’t that be great?!
NOW, BACK TO THE REAL WORLD. Acknowledging our vulnerabilities isn’t easy. It takes courage, strength and the discernment to know when it’s wise to do so, especially in the workplace. So what’s a good point of entry to get started?
Begin by taking an inventory of your vulnerabilities. Tap into your curiosity and ask yourself such questions as: What am I afraid of? What makes me angry? What causes me pain? What helpful next steps or practices do I keep avoiding? Why am I avoiding them? How do I want or need to grow? Reflecting on these kinds of questions will build your self-awareness and therefore your ability to own your power. Knowing the spectrum of who you really are and how you want to develop gives you more choices, allows you to act more intentionally and create from a fuller palette of “colors.” In contrast, without getting to know your vulnerabilities, there is a danger that they will make their presence known in unexpected and undesirable ways, and you will make more work and complications for yourself and, potentially, others.
Growth can be painful and making this inventory of vulnerabilities is, well, vulnerable, so it's a good idea to build up your positive self-regard and confidence first. Make an inventory of your strengths and get feedback from supportive people in your life to validate and encourage you.
Next, clarify what you’re going to do with your deepened self-awareness. For example, knowing that you’re triggered by people who interrupt you is an important awareness. But without knowing how to manage that trigger you may find yourself frustrated or anxious. Our vulnerabilities are an invitation to reach both deep inside to our internal resources and outside to trusted people to get the support, ideas and inspiration to address and use our challenges for good. In my work with both individuals and organizations, I’ve seen that doing so makes a big difference in the long-run. You free up the energy spent hiding or repressing parts of yourself so you’re able to access more of your “colors” and uncover the nuggets of wisdom often found within them. For example, anger tends to hold within it information about a limit or a boundary you need to set. Pain often calls attention to issues you still need to work through or reminds you to be kinder to yourself. By addressing pain or anger rather than avoiding them or expressing them without intention, you avoid unnecessary damage and empower yourself to explore healthy ways to process these feelings.
There are many more ways to manage your vulnerabilities, indeed, the task of getting to know yourself is lifelong. What’s most important is making the commitment to do so, allowing for the likelihood that it will open up new and important awareness and options. You might just find that it allows you to follow the truest thread of who you are and what you can share with the world.
POSSIBILITIES FOR REIMAGINING YOUR VULNERABILITIES
Recognize that when you’re feeling vulnerable, you’re connected with thousands if not millions of people around the world who are having a similar experience. For example, if you’re about to walk out onto a stage to give a speech and feeling terrified, remind yourself that there are lots of other people wrestling with the same feelings. You may find comfort in realizing you’re not alone, that you’re part of a vast, interdependent web of humanity.
Acknowledge that your awareness has opened the door to solutions for addressing your challenge. Self-awareness gets you out ahead of blind spots, increasing your self-connection and power. For instance, in the situation I described above, you might decide to take a class or talk to a therapist or coach about your public speaking fears.
Overcome resistance, embrace your expanded choices and take action. Going back to public speaking again, you may cringe at the idea of admitting your fear to anyone, or resist going to the effort and discomfort of taking a class. Take a moment to acknowledge your feelings, rather than to submit to them; they are a powerful source of information and when explored in a thoughtful manner can guide optimal next steps. Commit to taking a positive action that will serve your needs and goals. If you’re still feeling stuck, reach out for support.
See your vulnerabilities as gateways to self-empathy/self-connection and empathy. Doing work on your vulnerabilities affirms to you and others that you’re human, and that you’re honest and secure enough to expose and deal with your less flattering traits. It builds empathy as you identify with others people’s challenges and gives them the opportunity to identify with yours.
Reap the professional benefits of working effectively with your own and other’s vulnerabilities. Knowing how to build a powerful team by selecting members who complement each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities to create a stronger, interdependent whole is a huge value add. Moreover, being vulnerability-savvy will help you make wise organizational decisions and give you a critical edge as a leader. You’ll have more confidence in delegating, picking project leads, knowing where to focus supervision with your staff and identifying when you yourself need more support and skill building.
There are truly an infinite number of ways to reimagine vulnerability. I’d love to hear how you’ve done so! I don’t know about you, but I’d like to live in a world where we can deeply support each other in mining the depths of the full range of who we are. Let’s build relationships, families, workplaces and cultures that are more attuned, kind, richly nuanced with the truth of who we are and creative. Let's redirect and transform what we may at first think of as our "shadow side" but which may turn out to be one of the greatest resources to light our path.