August 21, 2013

The Vulnerability Party

Several months ago, I scribbled Brené Brown’s name on a Post-It when a friend recommended watching her Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) talk on vulnerability, but then set it aside.  About a month afterward, an interview of her appeared in O Magazine, and didn’t think much of it.  Just the other day, I was scrolling through my Pinterest feed the other day I stumbled upon a Pin of “15 TED Talks That Will Change Your Life”, clicked on it, and saw Brené Brown listed, which triggered my memory of the now crumpled-up Post-It note that is probably lost somewhere in the inner depths of my purse.

One of my new favorite evening rituals is doing the Viparita Karaniyoga pose, which is really just an exotic-sounding Indian name for lying down and elevating your legs up against the wall for 5-10 minutes.  So, the other night while I "hung out" with my legs against the wall I played Brown’s 2010 TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability from my iPad, fighting every urge to take notes as I listened and practiced my pose.  Tonight, I just finished her follow-up 2012 TED talk on Listening to Shame.  In addition to trying this yoga pose, you should listen do two more things and listen to these great talks.

Brown’s 2010 talk on vulnerability was particularly illuminating because for many of us vulnerability is such a pervasively felt yet feared and suppressed emotion.  Though we all have our different personalities and perspectives, we are all afraid to be vulnerable, which by many of our accounts is to appear weak, to be rejected, to be forgotten.  Brown argues that vulnerability is just the opposite, that it actually is our most accurate measurement of courage” and that it is “the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”  Food for thought, right?

When I think about it, I find people most endearing when they let their guard down, when they stop putting on heirs, when they reveal the side of themselves that perhaps they don’t feel brave enough to share with everyone.  When I am privy to this side of someone who is struggling with exposing this vulnerability, particularly if it’s someone I really like and admire, a part of me just wants to hug them and to tell them it’s okay, that this is a good thing.  Vulnerability is such an endearing thing on so many levels.

But perhaps why I find vulnerability so captivating in others is because though I am pretty in tune with my emotions, my sometimes reserved and shy nature can hold me back in certain situations, making it difficult for me to express my own vulnerable side too, even if I really want to reveal it.  Typically, and I think this is true of many of us, I am only capable of exposing that part of me once I’ve developed trust with a person or situation, which sometimes takes a little while (typical of the INFJ personality type). 

Looking at vulnerability as a “measurement of courage”, as Brown refers to it, shattered my preconceived notion that vulnerability is perhaps the less tender flower of the emotion family and ironically more of the iron-fisted one.  Vulnerability is actually quite strong and sexy; confident and powerful.  And, as I think about it more, Brown's argument is actually quite consistent with how I perceive the emotion expressed by other people.  For example, a man who exposes vulnerability by saying to a woman, “I really like you,” is actually a symbol of great, modern alpha strength rather than beta-male weakness, in my opinion.  Brown’s way of putting it is direct: “Vulnerability is not weakness.  And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” 

Needless to say, the Power of Vulnerability talk was powerful, especially when paired with a little bit of light yoga.  My homework going forward is to work more on accepting and becoming more comfortable with my vulnerability, and I urge you to do the same.  After all, “that’s what life is about: about daring greatly, about being in the arena.” 

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