In the past week, I spent two days in a Leadership Fundamentals course as part of my development for my work. One fascinating topic we explored was vulnerability and that daring to put yourself in vulnerable position is the very first step in building positive bonds and trust with others as a leader.

I naturally connected with this topic. I’ve always believed that the ability to be vulnerable and having the courage to share are both key ingredients in self-growth. I don’t consider it a “leadership” quality, but a human quality that is important for those of us who wish for a connection with others. It is not a coincidence that people respond most when they hear of the struggles of others because that is when they are able to connect and empathise. “I don’t know exactly what you’ve been through, but I know what that emotion feels like. That’s what I mean by I feel you.” 

So two days after coming home from that course, I decided to dig a little deeper into the topic of vulnerability and I found a gem from TED Talks. Researcher storyteller, Brene Brown, shares on TED about her decade long study on vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame.

I gained alot of insight through this twenty minute video and I recommend making (and taking) the time to watch it.

One of the things that hit home through watching her talk was how courage and vulnerability set apart two groups people in her studies – those with a sense of worthiness, love and belonging and those who struggle for it.

Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language, is from the latin word cuer meaning heart. And the original definition of courage was to tell your whole story with your whole heart. – Brene Brown

She goes on to share that those who feel a sense of worthiness had the courage to be imperfect, compassion to treat themselves kindly first and in turn others, a connection with others as a result of their authenticity and being willing to let go of who they should be to be who they were and finally the ability to be vulnerable. This group of people saw vulnerability as a fundamental necessity in living life and the willingness to do things without guarantees.

I’ve struggled with being vulnerable and I still do but I’ve noticed one thing: the moment I make that decision to open my heart and start sharing the stories I have with people I meet, I unlock doors to amazing experiences and relationships with others and myself. All this could not be possible if I was unable to come to terms with my decisions in life, my mistakes, my lessons and myself. All this would not have happened if I kept all my struggles and shame to myself.

Dr Brown raises an incredible point on shame in her video about how shame stops the moment we talk about it. But leave shame to grow internally and it destroys lives when left to fester. The three ingredients she believes grows shame exponentially are secrecy, silence and judgement and I couldn’t agree more.

Shame stops growing when we start talking about it because we invite empathy into the picture and empathy is what breaks shame down. Empathy reiterates what we know but find hard to accept and understand, “You are not alone.”

But talking about shame and failure comes with a big serving of vulnerability and being able to accept that it’s okay to put yourself out there. It takes courage to risk being judged or rejected but it comes with the benefit of slowly growing self-love, acceptance and confidence.

At the end of the day, each time we share a bit of ourselves, we are inviting others to do so but we are not expecting them to do the same. The act of sharing is a personal decision to let go of our own fears, to embrace the uncertain and to come to terms with how human it is to be imperfect. We free ourselves through openness and honesty and this brings with it the beauty of the unknown and all it’s positives and with that incredible empowerment!

If you’d like to explore more on Dr Brene Brown’s research and learning of vulnerability and shame, do head over to her blog.