Being aware of our vulnerability as human beings and showing it to others is not a weakness, but something we should all do more frequently.
As an HR professional, I have always been interested in people development, so three years ago, I decided to get some training on coaching. I learned many interesting and useful things in that course, and it actually changed the way I looked at life. One of the most surprising things I learned was the importance of being aware of our vulnerability and expressing it to others. Vulnerability is an underrated super-power that we should be using more often.
I thought vulnerability was a form of weakness, something to be avoided. Consciously or unconsciously, I always wanted to be seen as strong, as the best at doing something, as the smartest one, as someone who didn’t cry or didn’t talk about feelings. Why? I’m not sure, and I don’t remember anybody teaching me this as a value, but I guess I thought that was the way I had to be. I had to be always seen as strong, infallible, and unperturbable.
In that blessed coaching course, we learned that all human beings are vulnerable by nature. We all are, and that’s fine. That’s perfectly fine. Being aware of our vulnerability allows us to face the challenges life puts in front of us in a different, better way. It gives us more humility and compassion towards ourselves and others. Showing our vulnerability makes us more open and approachable to others. It helps us connect better with others.
Before this course (and even still today, I am not fully graduated in vulnerability yet; it’s a long journey), I thought that if I was seen as strong or as the best at something, people would love and respect me more. I would try to hide emotions like sadness and fear because they would make me be seen as vulnerable and weak. Now I know that the opposite is true.
When you try to hide your sadness or fear, as I often did, and I still do, people see through you. You think they don’t, but they do. People usually can perceive how you feel. They also notice you are trying to hide something. Some people may find this cute, but many others will wonder why you are trying to hide something you are feeling and it is clear for all to see.
The real strength comes when you are sad, anxious, or afraid of something, and you are strong enough to realise it and admit it to yourself and others. That’s showing vulnerability and being vulnerable, and it is a sign of strength, not weakness. It will bring you closer to others, not farther away. People will love you more, not less.
A poet’s vulnerability
I prefer to borrow someone else’s words when they are able to express something much better than me. The poet David Whyte has written some beautiful words about vulnerability, that you can find here (I recommend listening to the audio, where he reads the lines himself; his voice and pronunciation are wonderful).
The first lines go like this:
“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.”
We are all vulnerable. It is our natural state, so trying to run from it is pointless. The sooner you accept this, the better. When we are open to our vulnerability, we are open to the vulnerability of others. We are more compassionate, more understanding, more open-minded. Being vulnerable is also the first step to allowing others to help us when we are in need. Real generosity is not only about giving, but also about knowing when to receive. You cannot receive real help without vulnerability.
Let’s continue with Whyte:
“To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusionary privilege and perhaps the prime and most beautifully constructed conceit of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.”
Feeling powerful over the events and circumstances affecting our lives is an illusion. We may feel like this when we are young, but the tribulations of life put this illusion to rest. I believe we do have some agency in our lives, we can shape our fate and future through our actions, but we are never in full control of this fate. There are many things we cannot control, and that will hurt us and put us on the wrong path. Understanding this and living with it is part of the recognition of our vulnerability as human beings.
How to be vulnerable
Being vulnerable is about being aware of our defects, weaknesses, and development areas and not being afraid of sharing or showing them to others. It’s about not taking ourselves too seriously and laughing at ourselves now and then. Being vulnerable is about knowing that we aren’t perfect and will never be, but accepting and loving ourselves nevertheless.
How do we do this? Here you have some tips:
– Be honest, frank, and transparent with others about what you feel, what worries you, what you aren’t sure about, what you don’t agree with, and what you aren’t good at. You may think this will make you look weak and people will take advantage of you, but the opposite is true. By accepting and showing your vulnerability, you are telling others that you are aware of it, it’s not a blind spot, and are strong enough and feel secure enough to put it in plain sight for all to see.
– Practice unconditional love, starting with yourself. Love with strings attached isn’t real love; real love is unconditional. The first person you should love unconditionally is yourself. Many people (I include myself here) are too harsh on themselves and focus more on their failures than their achievements. Love yourself as you would love your partner, children, parents, or best friend: knowing that you are not perfect, but your imperfections are part of you and make you more lovable. Why is this so easy to apply to others, but not to ourselves?
– Don’t take yourself too seriously
– Cultivate self-awareness and introspection. Reflect on your inner being, what you think, what you feel, in what states of mind you are, what you like to do, and what you enjoy… Know thyself. Ask for feedback, talk about your blind spots with people you know, hire a coach, engage a mentor, visit a counsellor… Know, but don’t judge yourself.
– Practice compassion with yourself and others.
– Start a blog or some other creative endeavour. It works for me, at least. I’m showing some vulnerability by writing this post and publishing it for everyone to see, and it feels scary but also liberating.
Vulnerability as a super-power
Talking about vulnerability, compassion, and self-love may sound like spiritual New Age mumbo-jumbo, but it isn’t. It is really a super-power, and it should be part of the future leader’s toolkit or anybody’s toolkit for that matter.
Being aware of our vulnerability and displaying it enhances our Emotional Intelligence (EQ). EQ is about being aware of our and others’ emotional state and managing our emotions and our relationships with others based on that knowledge. By being aware of our vulnerability, we connect better with our inner states and learn more about ourselves. By displaying our vulnerability to others, we connect better with them and make ourselves more approachable.
In a world increasingly dominated by machines and when more and more people are feeling alienated and unhappy, two things are becoming more and more critical: self-awareness and human relationships. Vulnerability helps us in both, as it allows us to connect better with ourselves and with others. That’s why it will be an increasingly important super-power, today and in the future.
I hope you can cultivate your vulnerability and proudly show it to the world. That’s what I try to do every day. I’m still learning, though, and I have a long way to go.
I couldn’t think of a better way to finish this post than with the last paragraph from Whyte’s writing:
“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.”