I gave an impromptu motivational speech to my brother-in-law and his future wife about the merits of being vulnerable. (Who gives impromptu motivational speeches? Blogging is really getting to my head.) I did not get to say everything I wanted to then, so I’ll try again, for all the people out there.
To explain how I feel about vulnerability, I first need to give my definition for two terms:
Shame: The painful emotion you feel when your evaluation of yourself does not match your expectation for yourself; or the perceived expectation of others
Vulnerable: Susceptible to physical or emotional harm. (Lets focus on emotional)
Vulnerability is the process by which I overcome shame. Let me give you a personal example.
My family is Israeli. Everyone speaks Hebrew. At some point after college I realized that I had lost a large part of my reading proficiency in Hebrew, and I was ashamed. It took me a while to confront my shame and ask my younger brother help me. I asked him to wake up with me an hour earlier every morning and listen to me read Harry Potter in Hebrew. Kudos to him for saying yes. I am sure that he would have preferred to do something else other than listening me struggle to read “Wingardium Leviosa” in Hebrew at 7am (such as sleep). I put myself in a vulnerable position by both admitting that I was not as capable as one might assume, and by approaching my brother (older brothers are supposed to be better at everything, right?). And it paid off. I am a much better reader nowadays.
I believe that vulnerability can also be used in the workplace. Vulnerability can be an effective tool with a boss, peer, or someone you manage. Both admitting you are wrong and asking for help are two traits that, I believe, can benefit the culture of a workplace. Warren Buffet, in his letter to shareholders, openly talks about when the company did something wrong and when they partnered with another company because that company does something better than Berkshire Hathaway.
But a note of caution: there is a time and place for vulnerability. I have some much better examples of vulnerability in my personal life; they are just not appropriate to be published for the entire world. Likewise in the workplace: If you are not good at building financial models, you do not need to go around telling everyone. You need to work on getting better at financial models. But if your work requires you to build a financial model, you would be doing a disservice to the company by not asking for help.
Vulnerability is courage in the form of emotional risk. Every time being vulnerable pays off, it makes the process a little easier for me. Occasionally I get slapped in the face. But now I almost look forward to that deep stomach churn when I am confronting something that I am ashamed of, because I know that I am taking the steps to overcome something that stands in my way of becoming a better person.
So Simon and Ruthy, here is my message to you: be vulnerable. If there was ever a person to vulnerable with, your spouse is it. Don’t let your perception of what makes an ideal husband or wife shame you into acting a certain way. You don’t need to be perfect. Apologizing, admitting you’re wrong, and talking about your feelings doesn’t make you weak; hopefully it will make your relationship stronger.
I am excited to dance with you guys tomorrow at your wedding – Mazal Tov!
*Brene Brown’s TED talk built the framework for me with these ideas