More on Vul-ner-a-bil-i-ty: The Willingness to be Wrong

If you were paying attention to my message yesterday you will have noticed that the title, your first point of contact with that message, incorrectly listed vulnerability as having five syllables. In actual fact, it has six syllables. I was wrong; publicly wrong. That’s vulnerability in action!

As risky as it was to do that, I was willing to see what happened as a result. I didn’t panic, my world didn’t end. In fact, work and life continue to thrive just as before. I survived, so did everyone else.

There’s an important lesson here about vulnerability.

You can’t be vulnerable if you’re not willing to be wrong, to make a “bad” decision, or sometimes look like you don’t know what you’re doing. But so many of us, especially when it comes to our careers and jobs, are reluctant, unwilling, or paralyzed by the very notion of that kind of exposure. So we stay in companies, roles, relationships, and habits that either aren’t serving us in a meaningful way, or worse, that drain and deplete us of the very life we think we’re maintaining.

We keep on keeping on with what is, with what we’ve always done. We claim it’s because we value security and stability. We lose sight of the possibility and potential for enhanced success that might come from even a little foray into the uncertain and slightly unstable.

Being unwilling to be truly vulnerable, to take a real risk (not a false one), to really untether your boat and row into the waters of uncertainty will keep you stuck in the status quo and ensure that any change you might wish or hope for will remain just that. Nothing’s going to happen.

Letting go is necessary to open up your view, your perception and your awareness. And that opens up the opportunity for action toward change and improvement. Yes, letting go may suck at first. You may hurt, you may feel defenseless, you may feel stupid and lost, and you WILL be scared.

Remember though, this doesn’t have to be a large scale letting go. It could be something small. Start by being willing to be wrong, to not be perfect, to not have it all figured out. I know personally how hard that can be, and I also know personally about the growth and expansion of success and fulfillment that comes as a result.

Taking risks like this, being vulnerable even in small ways lets us rediscover our true capacity and capability. We see how resourceful we are. We become more resilient. Taking risks that expose us builds and strengthens relationships, connecting us as human beings. When we’re even a bit vulnerable and step into uncertainty we get feedback and “data” that helps define our paths forward and refine our vision and direction. Being vulnerable could be the initial move that builds into real momentum toward your next big decision, your next success.

The space we create when we are vulnerable is where learn happens. That’s where we confidence, grow and expand our possibility.

What small ways might you open up, be vulnerable, and take a risk this week? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you do? What do you gain by not doing so?

Vulnerability: The Five Syllable Fancy Word for Risk

There is much ado these days about vulnerability. Seen and understood as that opening up of oneself, being raw, exposing messiness or uncertainty, even showing weakness. Leaders and icons of business, sport, entertainment, and public service are praised for it. And it is no wonder, that we too, drawn in by the realness and truth that we feel when someone is truly vulnerable, are compelled to experience it too. We’ve all collectively agreed that vulnerability is a good thing.

You may have noticed, as I have, that people among us are now wont to declare themselves vulnerable as a means of gaining favor or recognition or as a means of strategically positioning themselves with others. But is that it? Do we really know what it means to truly be vulnerable?

Real vulnerability is risk. Inherently. It’s five syllables and looks fancier, but at its root, it’s risk.

It requires letting go of the structures we rely on to keep us safe. It means being in the unknown, fully, and not explaining it away. It is uncomfortable, maybe even painful. It can be simultaneously sad and exhilarating; or just sad, feeling like loss. It means dropping boundaries and supports we are used to. It means releasing what we know to be safe and predictable, and allowing and abiding by whatever we don’t know that arises.

That’s risk.

Like any risk, real vulnerability presents the opportunity for upside, for gain. But here’s the thing: that upside won’t be fulfilled under false vulnerability.  

Surface level vulnerability won’t cut it. This is often spotted by self-proclamation on the part of the person who wants to be seen as being raw and open; by language and action that betrays fear, reluctance, and arrogance; and especially by the claim of a definite plan for how it’s all going to go.

No matter how strong the desire may be to open up and to take that risk, just talking about it, representing it as “true” externally without anything changing on the inside isn’t taking the risk. Maintaining protections and not truly letting go is like keeping your boat tethered to the dock but still expecting to arrive on the other shore. You’re not getting anywhere.

Make no mistake, talking about your plan to change and being honest with yourself and others (even just a few) about what you expect you’ll do or how you’ll be is an important step toward readying yourself and nearing real vulnerability. It is expected and understood that your final steps will come after preparation, contemplation, calculation, and decision (maybe repeated several times). The point here is that if you never get beyond the talk, if you never walk the proverbial walk, there will be no gain.

Not ever making the leap means you’re taking no real risk. For all the self preservation and safety in that, imagine the potential growth and opportunity that you lose as a result.  

If there is a risk you know you want—or more importantly, need—to take, what is it that you’re not letting go of? What is the opportunity cost in maintaining that “security” (which may be assumed and not real, by the way)? What would happen if you really went for it and let yourself be exposed, truly vulnerable?

It could just open up the space for your enhanced, never before imagined, fuller and more satisfying success.