Why Is Vulnerability Critical For My Success?
I’ve never been the type of person committed to a particular fitness regime. Instead I go through cycles of focussed interest moving from extremes: early morning swims, to boot camp, to netball, to meditation courses. However, my latest regime is one that is sticking and rewarding me with huge benefits daily. This new ‘regime’ I’ve committed to? Vulnerability.
I somewhat stumbled upon Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability and it hit a real nerve for me. What her work meant for me was vulnerability equals authenticity—an ability to be true to yourself. It took me a while to wrap my head around this. When I was growing up I was taught to be strong, to be determined and stick to my goals. All things I didn’t associate with being vulnerable. These things helped me work hard, push through numerous exams and assessments, achieve many successes, complete my degree top of my class, save money, go travelling and get a great job. However, it got to a stage when something wasn’t clicking anymore. Being ‘strong’ started to feel weak. I felt it lacked authenticity. I started to fall apart bit by bit.
Stress sneaks up on you like that. You think you have it all under control, then suddenly you’re yelling at your boyfriend because he finished all the chocolate. I realised that holding it all in wasn’t doing me any good and it certainly wasn’t allowing me to be myself. Opening up, sharing, really being ok with ‘letting go’ – to me that felt like I would be losing my foundation, my security, my certainty. What could I stand for if I wasn’t holding on to all that? What could I fall back on if I’d let go of everything? That’s what would come up for me when I thought about vulnerability. At the time I didn’t really know what it was I was experiencing, but having found Brené’s work, the word VULNERABLE is suddenly so powerful and has completely changed my focus. I realised that for things to change, I really needed to let go more and start doing things differently.
The vulnerability work out.
Much like any new fitness regime, it’s been a gradual strength building exercise for me. Each day I have found more and more energy that shows me I have well and truly stumbled on something that is real and core to my inner self. ‘Letting go’ has put me back on my authentic path. Brené says, ‘Vulnerability is the courage to show up and be seen – to expose your inner most self and be comfortable and confident in that’. For me, I was definitely lacking that connection to my inner most self. I know now the key to growth, change, and finding your authentic path is actually really all about being vulnerable. However, even when I made the decision that something had to change, when I chose to be vulnerable, feelings started showing up: overwhelm, what will others think and say, where do I start, how will this work, what if it doesn’t work out?
So, here’s a few things to kickstart your workout…
1. You need to have an end in sight.
You may have heard it all before. But there’s a reason everyone keeps banging on about it. You do need to have an end in sight, you need to have a clear mission or purpose in life, and you need to set your goals. Have you ever really stopped and listened to these things? Have you stopped to ask yourself those difficult questions about what you want in life? And, have you taken the time to answer them?
Each of us has an ‘ideal’ self that we would like to be. However the problem is that most of us have never thought much about this, or really articulated who this is, how we can identify with them, or how to achieve that state. Being able to get to know this ideal self inside out is the difference between making powerful waves in your life and being stale and stagnant. You have to be able to articulate and language what you want from your life, otherwise how do you expect to get there? It’s like driving blindfolded!
I spent years feeling lost and lethargic, not knowing what I wanted but knowing for sure that I wanted more. Not taking action. I had never stopped to ask myself how I wanted to be spending every single day, what my ideal ‘average’ day would look like. The day that I would want to live every single day, that would be sustainable and that I would love to experience. I hadn’t stopped to listen to the questions my inner voice was nagging at me to answer. I didn’t want to listen, it was ‘too hard’, ‘too scary’, and there was way too much uncertainty. So I just kept living day to day. I kept doing the same things, which were stopping me from ever taking steps towards my ideal life.
Moments started adding up that made me realise things weren’t ideal:
- I got promoted after a period of significant hard work and sacrifice. I didn’t feel excited by it.
- I’d come home crying to my partner stressed and overwhelmed but not sure why. Every night.
- I spent a lot of time on Skyscanner looking up flights. To anywhere.
- Slabs of chocolate became a regular grocery item on my shopping list. Correction: daily shopping list.
- I felt constantly tired, run down, no longer engaged in my daily activities. Everything was an effort.
I knew something had to change. I started asking myself more questions, but this time I decided to try something new. I started answering the questions. I started to visualise what it was I wanted. (Not what I didn’t want). If I was living my ideal average day every day, where would I live? What would my house look like? What pictures would be on the wall? Who would I be talking to? About what? What would I be doing all day? What life purpose would I be striving towards?
The answers seemed simple, yet invigorating. I’d be waking up every day next to my partner feeling excited for the day ahead. I’d being going for a walk or doing a yoga class, following by a delicious coffee. My day would be filled with stimulating conversation that challenged me in a resourceful way. I’d get to speak to my family. I’d come home from work energised, with time to enjoy cooking a wholesome meal and spend time on the couch with my partner.
My ‘why’ became clearer too. I wanted a life that allowed me to be connected with my family and loved ones. One where I had freedom to make choices for myself around the way I spend my time.
The difference is that I started to create my life and stopped trying to find it.
Getting clear about what you want means you can move away from moment to moment decisions and make clear steps – whether they’re tiptoes or leaps – towards a life truly worth living. A clear vision and end in sight keeps you grounded to stay on your path and also makes being vulnerable so much easier. The energy I get from having a clear idea of where I’m heading is what is driving me each day and what is steering me back on track when I get off course. On days when I come home irritable, tired, frustrated and with no energy, these are the days I really take stock. Why do I feel like this? Where am I off course? What did I forget to do today?
2. Break things down into manageable chunks: Creation comes from action.
If you’re anything like me you’ll be good friends with ‘overwhelm’. My pattern since I was at school has been to take on everything, do my best at it, and always say yes. Just ask my mother. She’ll tell you all the times she found me crying over school projects the night before they were due because I’d left it to the last minute (having been preoccupied with the numerous other activities I’d decided to dip my toe into). I’d be stuck in this moment on the overwhelming question of ‘but HOW?!’. How do I finish this, maintain my standard, AND still keep up with all the other things going on. How can I possibly get through? As I got older my resilience changed (less tears, but still a crisis point) but the pattern was still the same. This ‘resilience’ was really just me battering down my vulnerability. I was holding on to a belief that I needed to do more (and do it well) for others to connect with me and respect me. The pattern was no longer serving me – I wasn’t having fun and I certainly wasn’t feeling energised or fulfilled. I knew I needed to start letting go of things.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu
So I decided to pick winners. The ‘winners’ for me were the most important things in my daily life that were resourceful for me, energised me, and felt right. Not skipping out on my yoga class. Having coffee ‘dates’ with myself. Having date nights with my partner. Breaking things down into smaller chunks meant I could take action without feeling overwhelmed. This momentum was the only way I was able to create change. I started to focus on where I could do a ‘spruce’ rather than a full spring clean and things became more manageable.
The biggest game changer for me was doing an exercise to answer the question ‘what five things would need to happen for me to say this was the best year yet?’. I had to come up with five clear, specific and time relevant statements that answered this question. Spending time articulating these gave me a clear focus for the year. I could then break things down even further. ‘What five things can I do in the next three months that would help me get to my BIG FIVE?’. Then each day, ‘what five things could I do today that would help me get to my three month goals’?
3. Feel the butterflies and embrace them.
Ever said yes to something then noticed a churn in your stomach afterwards? That’s your butterflies talking to you. That’s the point of resistance you’ve just leaned into, you’ve made yourself vulnerable – to change, to grow, to be living a more authentic life. If you’re not feeling the butterflies then you’re not pushing yourself enough to change your circumstances and you should really be questioning if what you’re doing is right for you. It’s in these moments of uncertainty that we are truly able to grow.
Susan Jeffers (author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway) says this feeling is never going to go away – it’s what you do with it that counts.
“The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and… do it! When you do it often enough, you will no longer be afraid in that particular situation. You will have faced the unknown and you will have handled it. Then new challenges await you, which certainly add to the excitement in living.”
For me I had ultimately become stuck in this fear and couldn’t get moving again. I was stuck on ‘protecting myself’ instead of leaning into that feeling. The real lesson for me came when faced with a new relationship; having been tarnished by the meltdown of a previous experience I’d put up iron gates. I was focussing on the pain of being hurt again instead of the intense pleasure of having someone close to me that I could open up to, learn from, and grow with. Saying yes to my relationship meant I also saw where else I could be letting go more. I’d been sitting on the fence of ‘wanting’ to move to London for years (about 10 to be exact) and had always had an appropriate reason why I couldn’t do it then. Reframing to focus on what I could gain from such a move suddenly made the decision crystal clear. I’ve been in London for two years now and still grin at myself each morning, knowing that I took action, in spite of all the discomfort, and am reaping the rewards.
4. Focus on you, nobody else.
We can’t control our external world. Don’t get wrapped up in what others are saying, doing, or how they are responding. Their world is perceived through their own eyes and you don’t have any control over this. The sooner you start focussing on what you CAN change, the sooner you start feeling it. So if you can’t change people’s perceptions you might as well spend your energy in other ways, getting to know your own world.
Consider whether you are busy focussing on how you’re going to fail, or how you’re going to succeed. You may not like your day job, you may have identified you need a change or you need to escape. Just don’t get stuck on this. Don’t let it stop you from moving forwards.
“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fuelled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.” – Brené Brown.
The more you focus on something completely out of your control, seeking ‘certainty’ from external sources, the more it will allude you. Finding this certainty instead from within, will bring you fresh new perspectives on the challenges you face. Understanding that there are things in your control to change, that’s where the magic can and will happen. But first, you have to let go of all that other gunk. When others around you at work are frustrated, stressed or say something that agitates you, ask yourself, how is the world looking different through their eyes? I find deep breaths help me refocus my energy. When I feel myself getting swept up in other people’s emotions and stress at work, I literally remind myself to breathe. Then ask, is this really something in my control? It’s also helped me not take things to heart when my partner is just having a vent. Instead of getting wrapped up in it and thinking it’s about me, or it’s my fault (and therefore getting upset about it), I focus on what I do have control over – my reactions. I breathe, I listen, I choose to be supportive, and I don’t take it to heart.
The vulnerability catalyst.
The vulnerability work out is much the same as a gym session – the more you do it, the easier it becomes, then the further you can take it. Being able to fully embrace vulnerability is a powerful catalyst for transformational change in your life. It’s what will put you on a pathway to living life with energy, purpose and fulfilment. Why keep living moment to moment if it’s not working for you? What if a simple gym session could change your life? The beauty of it is you have the choice to sign up to the vulnerability gym at any time and it doesn’t cost a thing. You have the ability to work out as hard as you choose and to create the change you want in your life. If you’ve read this far, my guess is that you’ve already made the decision to do things differently. My challenge to you is to do something each day that works your vulnerability muscle. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you build your strength and how energised you feel when you are connected to your inner most self.
Danielle Brooker believes life is about creating yourself, not finding yourself. Danielle is passionate about helping others to get back on track to what is true for them. The Daisy Patch supports people to make transformational changes in their lives—to live a life of growth, connection and balance.
Doing something different with your life and career is hard… but you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help with your Escape and if you are ready to re-take control over your life, join our Tribe.
“No one can tell you what to do with your life and there is no “one-size-fits-all” escape that will lead you to happiness. What does work, however, is exposure to new ideas, likeminded people and a safe environment for you to figure out what it is you really want.”
– Rob Symington, Escape the City co-founder.