The other night I went to hear Brené Brown, the social work researcher from Houston, talk about vulnerability and shame. I had written about her in an earlier post and a friend alerted me to her visit to Seattle to promote her book Daring Greatly. There are some great pearls of wisdom in this book, especially in the chapter about parenting.
My friends and I went out for dinner afterwards and we all agreed that Brené is an awesome storyteller. She had us in stitches for the first 20-30 minutes and then she got right down to business. I really appreciated how she started off on such a light note, because the topic of vulnerability is not an easy one to discuss.
People she worked with got the wrong idea of what “Daring Greatly” was really about. And she illustrated this by showing pictures of incredibly ridiculous design drafts of her book cover– “a white man on a tightrope wire” and an elephant riding a unicycle.
She said, “There is no chance in hell of my name being under an elephant’s ass!” And the audience went crazy with laughter!
Brené eased into the topic of vulnerability by telling a story about swimming across a small lake with her husband while on a family vacation. This was a precious opportunity for them to spend some time together alone. She used to be a competitive swimmer in her youth and was thrilled to be in the water in her new speedo swimsuit.
So Brené is swimming across the lake with her husband and suddenly felt this powerful wave of love and gratitude, and she stopped halfway across the lake and said to him, “I am so glad we are doing this together. I feel so connected to you.”
And her husband responded with a flat, “Uh-huh. Yeah.”
She made herself vulnerable again when they reached the other side of the lake and got the same response.
“How many of you would try again?” she asked the audience and not many people raised their hands.
But she tried again a third time when they came back, and the same thing happened. She felt herself starting to get “pissed off.”
She told him, “Ok, here’s the story I’m making up in my head about what’s going on…either 1) You think I can’t swim anymore; or 2) I don’t look so good in a Speedo anymore.”
He said, “You’re being vulnerable aren’t you? I am not going there, Brené.”
She replied, “Well I am, and it’s fixing to go downhill real fast!”
And he reluctantly told her about a nightmare he had had the night before about taking several kids swimming across the lake and trying to keep them safe. He revealed he felt enormous pressure because everyone wanted him to be the superhero Doctor/Dad/competitive swimmer who is all-powerful and can make everything ok.
So no wonder he wasn’t connecting with Brené- how can you when you are in the throes of a panic attack? And she had no idea what he had been thinking because the story she had made up in her head was coloring everything.
After this wonderful connecting talk, he said to her, “You look really hot in that Speedo!”
Brené talked about 4 myths of vulnerability, which for me, were the biggest takeaways of the evening:
- Vulnerability = Weakness. For many people, their childhoods were filled with messages such as: “You should soldier on, be tough!” or “Do you want to have training wheels when you’re 30???” Vulnerability is showing up and being seen. And by living a courageous life, it means that you’re uncomfortable more than you’re comfortable.
- I can opt out of being vulnerable. You can hide behind a mask, but that is virtually impossible. Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Ask someone you trust: “What do I do when I am vulnerable?”
- Vulnerability is letting it all hang out. Oversharing on facebook or having a lack of boundaries is not vulnerability. Vulnerability is trust and intimacy and being able to share your story with people who have earned the right to hear it.
- I can do it alone. No. Humans are hardwired for connection, love and belonging.
(Thank you, Lisa, for taking notes on this talk.)