A story about vulnerability for kids

I wrote this short story with my nearly-7 year old after we saw a jacket hanging abandoned on a fence.  It reminded me of the work on the importance of vulnerability by Brene Brown and within U.Lab.

 

Under the Armour

 

The boy was late for school.

His bag had broken and he lost his homework, his snack for break and…

“OH NO! MY PROTECTIVE ARMOUR HAS GONE!”

 

His armour stops him from getting hurt.

Like when someone throw 26 boxes in under 2 seconds at him.

Or if they shout mean things at you.  The words just bounce off.

 

But then the boy remembered.

The armour doesn’t always work.

Sometimes a mean word can slip under the cloak and pull your pants up!

 

And the boy might donk someone first because his armour protects him.

He might say a mean word and a friend does something mean back.

Then he does something MORE mean and it goes on and on.  Until a grown up steps in.

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The boy sits on the bench and sighs.

He sees the Big Boy picking on another boy.

If he had his armour on, he would feel brave and go help.

 

He loves his armour, even if it gets him in trouble sometimes.

It’s blue and shiny and hard and makes him look cool.

Now, all he has on is his… “Oh no! My pyjama top with the kittens on it?!”

 

The Big Boy spots him and starts to laugh and point.

Lots of kids crowd round and start to laugh and point.

But a few sit next to him and one girl holds his hand.

 

“I didn’t know you like cats,” she said. “I do too.”

Another boy says, “One time at school, my trousers fell down!”

And the other kids tell their stories.  The boy feels much better for sharing something he would normally keep hidden.

 

“Who wants to play Tig?!” the girl shouts.

“Me!” the boy says and he runs like the wind.

No one can catch him.  He doesn’t have his clunky, heavy armour on to slow him down.

 

All the way home, the boy is smiling.

He finds his protective armour hanging on a fence.

The boy gives it a fond pat and leaves it right there.

 

 

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Where can being vulnerable get you?

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?