I am addicted to TED talks. They are the perfect way of getting through a long, boring commute. Download a few onto your iPod and you have instant access to a huge range of inspiring people, doing incredible things. The number of times I’ve got funny looks from fellow passengers for laughing out loud too.
One of my favourite TED speakers at the moment is Brené Brown, a storyteller researcher (which is what I think I’ll change my job title to, he he!), suggesting that “stories are data with a soul”. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. Aside from being funny and endearing, her views on vulnerability struck a chord with me while on my mission to create an extraordinary reality for myself.
Brené is interested in what allows people to really connect with others and live “whole-heartedly”. To do this, she found that you have to be willing to be seen and to be heard, which means allowing yourself to be vulnerable. How often do we shy away from putting our hand up and asking a question, suggesting a new way of doing something at work or simply telling someone we love them? Behind this reluctance is the overwhelming urge to protect ourselves from embarrassment, ridicule or rejection. Brené calls this shame which is at the root of vulnerability: the fear that if I show this part of me, people might not think I’m good enough.
This has major repercussions when you want to do something new, especially something that no one you know has tried before. For many, the voice of doubt in their head will sound like a worried parent or dismissive friend. But for me, this voice is always my own. I’ve wracked my brain to try to figure out why this is and I think part of it could be that for a large proportion of my working life, I seem to have put myself into situations where I feel a bit of an imposter, to be found out at any time, and so have felt very vulnerable. Everyone around me was smarter, savvier and had more credentials than me. But over the last few years, I’ve worked on this and started putting myself out there a bit more – letting myself be seen, actively choosing to be vulnerable in order to show that I have something to offer, and possibly because I’m not as politically savvy or have taken the same career path as my colleagues. This development in me has largely been down to a number of hugely supportive managers and colleagues who saw something in me before I did.
But in all spheres of our lives, how often do we put off doing something because we think we’re not good enough, or smart enough or that someone will laugh and point fingers? And then, that one time we get the confidence to put ourselves out there, to be seen and do something that, to us, really just seems run-of-the-mill and that anyone could have done it, someone turns round and says how amazing it was?
A lot of the time we don’t even recognize these strengths in ourselves or see what we have to offer because we’re too wrapped up in worrying about where we don’t measure up to other people (and they are probably worrying about how they don’t measure up to us). We take our strengths for granted because most of us have been brought up to believe that to be good at something you have to work really, really hard. Therefore we think that anything that comes natural can’t be worth much. Derek Sivers sums this up in his brilliant short video: “Obvious to you. Amazing to others.”
So go on, watch Brené Brown’s TED talks here. Who knows where being vulnerable will get you?