Shame you don’t have the courage to be more vulnerable, you could be a huge success
I recently read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Ms Brown tells how she found much inspiration from a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, the essence of which I have quoted below. In turn I found plenty of inspiration from her wonderful book, and I am just starting another.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…
…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”[i]
Ok, the modern day equivalent might be, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” and in this case the “how” is all about taking a chance. The victory is in knowing you dared greatly, you took a risk, you tackled your vulnerability and – whether you won or lost – you had a good old crack at it.
Of course there is much more to Ms Brown’s book than just this quote, including over a decade of research into human behaviour, particularly around the very challenging subjects of shame and vulnerability. Let’s look at just a little of this research and her wisdom, through some of my thoughts in this post. But first, here’s one of my stories.
My music’s made me vulnerable but incredibly happy too
One of my great loves in life has always been music. It has been the scene of vulnerability, success and failure for me. I learned piano from an early age. I won a lead role in a school play and sang no less than five solos. I played in a band at fifteen. At sixteen I had two songs to play on piano at a school fair for the scones, jam and tea crowd. I made such a hash of the first piece, I didn’t play the second. At seventeen I took a year off football and was told disdainfully by one of the older boys that I wasn’t playing because I played piano. I don’t need to spell out the inference in the comment. At nineteen I volunteered to play guitar and sing a few songs for a hall full of senior citizens at agricultural college, during Senior Citizens Week. They were a wonderful and appreciative audience, even during Waltzing Matilda, when I sang one version of the famous piece and they sang another very different version right over the top. We finished and showed each other great appreciation. And then later in my thirties I went back to piano lessons for fun. I played two pieces at the mid year lounge room concert of my teacher. My wife accompanied me. Every other student was under ten and at least half my height so their parents accompanied them. It was a piece of cake, at least until I stood up to take my turn. With the stakes high, playing a Ragtime piece as well as a piece I had composed, I got a violent case of the shakes. I was shaking so much I added all sorts of extra notes to both pieces. But I made it through. It may not have been brilliant. But I made it through daring greatly and succeeding at just doing in the arena. Now I am learning drums where the shakes may just be an advantage, or at the least, disguisable .
The birth place of creation
Prominent in her work is another stand-out quote for me. Ms Brown says in her book and associated TED Talks that “Vulnerability is the birth place of creativity, innovation and change”. This is so true in all commercial, professional or personal endeavours. I bet you know someone who has done particularly well for themselves, even although you feel you have the same raw talent. What did they have that you didn’t? Is it the degree to which they were prepared to take risks? To dare greatly and stare down the risk of failure – to be comfortable with being uncomfortable? Ok, some people wouldn’t see danger until it was chewing on their leg, which helps a little when daring greatly. But others have never gotten on the horse let alone fallen off, or they are so bruised by a fall that they won’t risk the embarrassment and shame of another. For them, daring greatly is incredibly difficult.
What does this mean for each of us? It means:
we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to grow
There is a lot of talk these days about leaders needing to be vulnerable. What does that really mean? It is a whole lot easier to lead in ways in which you have complete power and control, than to lead in ways which require you to take a risk for the return, ways in which you’re vulnerable. It takes great courage to commit when feeling vulnerable. Ms Brown goes to great lengths to demonstrate to us that being vulnerable is not a weakness – it is the stuff of great courage. You’re not vulnerable until you take a risk, and taking that risk takes guts. When you take that risk you’re being courageous. When you avoid something that makes you feel vulnerable, well that’s ok, but it’s not courageous.
The very acts of creativity, innovation and change require vulnerability. It is inevitable that things will change, and it is also inevitable that change brings uncertainty and risk. Acts of creativity and innovation bare the heart and soul – all the way from the creation of children through to new processes, procedures and innovative ideas in the workplace. Creation never comes with the certainty of success, but meaningful change rarely comes without some creativity and innovation, so we need to accept the vulnerability in each. Leaders need to embrace vulnerability.
The suffocation of creation and development
If we are vulnerable, we are exposed. Exposed to What? Anything we perceive that can do us harm, physically or mentally. Brené Brown tells us that we are made vulnerable by our fear of shame. I know the first thing we think when thinking shame is that shame is associated with something sinister and inappropriate, but it’s not so most of the time. The Oxford Dictionary defines shame as:
A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour: A loss of respect or esteem; dishonour: [ii]
Fact is, there are many small things that cause us to have an emotional reaction that could be defined as shame. An emotion that leaves us alone and disconnected. Anything that undermines our sense of self, i.e. our understanding and belief of who we are, can be a source of shame. I am ashamed that I didn’t win that race, I failed that test, I am overweight, I didn’t get that job promotion, I don’t earn as much money as my friend, I am being bullied, I didn’t get asked out, I got dumped, I got made redundant. It goes on and on. These are all the adventures and dramas of everyday life. These are the things that make us vulnerable, and also the things that make us human and make us know we are alive. And if you never let yourself risk that failure, then you never open yourself to the chance of success.
My challenge to you
Recognise that you rarely develop in a meaningful manner without feeling vulnerable, for example:
- Ok, I am going to join that public speaking group and if I forget my words half way through my speech, I will be embarrassed. I will be uncomfortable, but you know what, I will have dared greatly and as a result I will be a success.
Choose something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Pinpoint exactly what makes you feel vulnerable when imagining yourself undertaking this task or activity. Will it attack your sense of self, or do you think it will impact the perception others have of you. Will it leave you feeling alone and disconnected. Recognise the impact then really evaluate it. Its a great way to discount it. Imagine, picture, write down what it will feel like if you’re successful. Imagine, picture, write down what it will feel like if you choose to avoid it, to be frightened of vulnerability, to have made no change.
My great dare to you
is to take the courageous path of the gladiator and embrace being vulnerable.
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