How far do you go to protect yourself from being vulnerable?
Do you overthink before sharing something on social media?
Do you procrastinate when it comes to reaching out to a presenter?
Are you afraid to say, “I don’t know”?
Putting yourself out there means risking being criticized, feeling hurt, or being rejected.
But without vulnerability, you’ll bring your growth — both personally and professionally — to a screeching halt.
Today, Lisa shares her personal journey of embracing vulnerability and gives practical steps for how you can do the same.
Ready to be more courageous? Keep reading.
What is vulnerability?
If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be writing about the importance of vulnerability, I would have laughed in your face.
Actually, I wouldn’t have…that would have been too vulnerable for me.
But what exactly does “vulnerability” mean?
Vulnerability is the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
It is not inherently good or bad. It does not mean you will be harmed, or are even in any kind of danger. It simply means stepping out of your armor, for better or worse, to find out.
Are you uncomfortable yet?
Simply discussing vulnerability is enough to make even the best of us panic.
Because vulnerability is directly related to fear.
In fact, opening up and increasing our vulnerability often means addressing not one, but many or all of our fears head on.
More accurately, it requires us to reframe our fears as our strengths, and learn to carry them alongside ourselves out in the open, for all to see.
My personal journey with vulnerability
I was an extremely sensitive child who cried often. In the fifth grade, I was given an opening to associate with the “cool” crowd. I wanted so badly to fit in, so I studied their behavior to make sure they wouldn’t figure out I was an imposter.
The number one thing I observed?
Being cool meant not caring and it definitely meant not crying.
So for the next seven years when I was around my peers I made sure I did not shed a tear.
During my senior year of high school, a combination of college auditions, demanding coursework, and my self-imposed perfectionism finally pushed me to crack.
One day at lunch, for no reason at all, I found myself sobbing amongst my best friends who had never seen me cry.
Much to my surprise, when I finally stopped, they didn’t leave me or cast me aside. Rather, they were there for me as great friends are. And once I was able to open up to them, they were able to be there for me.
Lesson learned, right?
I wrote it off as a one-time incident and went on my merry way. Even though the result was positive, opening myself up in that way was incredibly uncomfortable. It was simply easier for me to maintain my status quo than to push myself to grow.
Luckily for me, as lessons do, this one cycled in different ways through different areas of my life, giving me the opportunity over and over again to learn it.
Today, I have a much healthier relationship with vulnerability.
Does it still frighten me? Absolutely. Am I always an open book, embracing my vulnerability without my insecurities, walls, or defense mechanisms standing in my way? Definitely not.
However, a big part of the vulnerability lesson clicked for me when I started setting living visions as a part of goal-setting.
When I look at the types of personal and working relationships I aim to build, trust is a recurring and key component. And, despite popular belief, in the chicken and egg question of trust and vulnerability, vulnerability must always come first to build trust—not the other way around.Vulnerability must always come first to build trust—not the other way around. Click To Tweet
So, I practice the skill of vulnerability, and a practice is most certainly what it is. Some days it’s easy, some days it’s hard.
In the moments I find myself exclaiming that I am, as a matter of fact, a vulnerable person, I know it’s time to fine tune my awareness and find my blind spots. As with music, yoga, or any other practice, in the practice of vulnerability we always have room to grow.
Who is your popular crowd?
As adults, most of us still have a crowd or tribe we are trying to fit into. As I did in the fifth grade, we all search for behaviors to mirror as a path to belonging or success.
For example, if you want to be a violin soloist, you find out how the greats do it, copy, and repeat. You mimic their practice routine and their daily schedule. You discover who their teachers and friends are and try to study with the same teachers and associate with the same people.
This is apprentice training at its core and it is a very efficient way to produce greatness.
However copying the behavior of others comes at a price if we aren’t careful. This is especially true when it comes to how you deal with pain, stress, embarrassment, fear, or failure.
In moments where self-reflection and vulnerability are most needed, it can be easier to look outward for a prescribed response.
Often the behavior that’s modeled is to push the less attractive parts of our process deep down inside where nobody will find them.
In other words, we fake it ‘til we make it.
But this isn’t healthy because, while on the outside we may seem to be growing stronger, internally it’s a different story.
The conscious human brain is highly adept at logical reasoning, and when we stifle all of our emotions for seemingly valid reasons, they don’t just disappear. Rather, they dump right into the subconscious, which is an annoyingly illogical, fervently pattern-seeking entity.
Why does this matter?
Our subconscious mind steers our actions. When we ignore and repress our points of internal resistance, we’re sending a signal to our subconscious that these feelings should be avoided.
As a result our subconscious categorizes any situation that evokes these emotions as “Danger! Danger! Red alert!”
So we avoid the situations, repress the emotions and look externally for diagnosis, prescription, and validation.
Ultimately, we get pulled into a cycle where we aren’t growing, we don’t know why, and we are so afraid of self-reflection that we aren’t even aware that we are stuck until it feels like it’s too late to change.
What if we did the opposite? What if we looked inwards for answers, and reached outwards to share our process with others and compare notes?
Ok, you’ve convinced me. How do I be more vulnerable?
Vulnerability is a practice, and like any practice it takes time and focus. Here are some ways to get started:
Find a support system
This can be anyone: a coach, a therapist, a family member, a friend, a mentor, or even a trusted colleague. It can be someone whose comfort with their vulnerability inspires you or it can be someone who is trying to be more vulnerable like you. Accountability is key.
A large fear people have when practicing vulnerability is that they will “betray” themselves in the moment. Many people believe, when it comes to emotions, that when it rains, it pours. A way to offset this is by knowing ahead of time what you do and do not feel comfortable sharing in certain moments. Go easy on yourself and be flexible. It’s a journey.
Ask your inner circle for feedback on your most attractive vulnerabilities.
We all have a blindspot when it comes to what about us makes others like us. Our own insecurities can often shade reality. Ask those closest to you, “Is there any aspect of me that you know about and like that you wish I shared with others sooner?” The answer may surprise you!
Don’t isolate yourself
Our subconscious mind goes to great and tricky lengths to protect us from perceived danger. Trying to expand our vulnerability sends our subconscious defenses into overdrive.
The awesome and frustrating thing about our minds is that, when left to our own devices, we can convince ourselves into our out of almost anything without even realizing what happened.
While the act of being more vulnerable requires looking inwards, trusted outside perspectives are key in making sure we haven’t fallen for a self-induced trick.
Remember, you won’t become someone you aren’t
A common fear whenever we aim to adopt any new behavior is what I like to call Metamorphosis Syndrome, named after the Kafka story about the salesman who wakes up one day to find he has suddenly transformed into a giant insect.
When starting to practice vulnerability, the fear of suddenly waking up as an oversharing, overly emotional mess can be very real and cause us to promptly stop.
But remember, you are still you.
This is your journey, and any steps you take towards expanding your vulnerability will be along your path and will become integrated into the whole you made up of countless other characteristics and qualities.