The Power of Vulnerability: 5 ways to come alive to your authentic self

13th September 2012

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"What makes you vulernable makes you beautiful." - Brené Brown

One of my favorite TED talks is by Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability. The premise is that connection is why we’re here, and in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. 

She encourages us to take off our masks, to have the courage to be imperfect, the strength to love ourselves first, and the guts to let go of who we think we should be to become who we really are.

Inspired by her incredible talk, here are five ways to experience the power of vulnerability so you come alive to your most authentic self:

1. Be real. If you’re scared, say you’re scared. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. If you made a mistake, say you made a mistake. If you feel hurt, say you’re hurt. If you’re in love, say you’re in love.

Earlier this year I spoke in front of about 100 advertising agency executives. They asked to come out and tell my story because I represented the “Doer” demographic that their campaign targeted. It was my first paid speaking gig, they asked me to present for 90 minutes, and told me to just “be me!” 

"Be me?!" I wondered. Along with, "Why me?!"

Nervousness and excitement bubbled in my body. Self-consciousness for talking about my journey for 90 minutes came up. I hoped the story would resonate. 

With all of these thoughts and feelings swirling, I took a deep breath and walked to the front of the room. Before diving into the story, I kept it real and said, “I have to be honest. You guys are all really awesome and I’m nervous as hell right now!” The audience laughed and connected with me in that moment, which made my body relax, and it made it easier to open up and dive into the personal journey. 

After the talk, people complimented me for being so open and honest. Without admitting the nervous feelings from the start, the talk may not have connected as deeply with the audience.

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2. Act with no guarantees. Ideas are safe. The idea of true love, the vision of a better world, the image of your perfect lifestyle. We can sit safely in our imaginations all day or we can fully commit to taking action, embracing the notion that we might fail or get hurt. 

When we decided to make The Bold Academy happen last February, the ups and downs and the joy and pain of bringing an idea to fruition in four mouths could not have been predicted. But we’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. The most painful moments were the greatest lessons. And now we have an arsenal of learnings.

What idea or notion or dream can you not get out of your head? What’s one small action step you can take today? For example, tell a friend your dream, write down your idea and share it with others, talk to your target customer about the idea, tell someone you love them, go for a run, do 15 push-ups, etc. Small steps taken every day lead to big changes. 

3. Ask for help. By admitting your weaknesses, you make room for other people’s gifts. 

Growing up, asking for help felt like weakness. Instead, I attempted to do everything myself. Perfectly. In my first post-college job at a start-up digital agency, whenever the CEO or Partners asked me if I knew how to do something (and I didn’t know), I’d say, “No, but I can figure it out.” Curiosity was my driver but so was the desire to do everything well. Eventually I learned that trying to do everything well would turn into not doing anything particularly well. 

If you notice yourself trying to do everything yourself, take a step back and evaluate which aspects of the project or situation energize and excite you. Write them down. Then make a list of the areas that exhaust you. Seek help where you’re exhausted. 

4. Get rejected. No makes room for the right Yes.

In college, my friend Daniel started something called “Project Paradox” to flip the notion of rejection on its head. Him and his buddies were curious as to how to approach women in a chivalrous way, as to how to lead truthful lives, and as to how to “get lucky.” With the fear of rejection as their biggest obstacle, the challenge became the goal, and the project became a mechanism for growth. 

Each throwing $20 into the pot, the first person to get rejected 20 times won all the money. The journey ended up being far more rewarding than the prize money, with many of the men discovering what it takes to put yourself out there and make a pretty lady smile. 

In what area of your life are you afraid of being rejected? How can you expose yourself to the possibility of being rejected 10 times this week? Through action comes growth.

5. Embrace negative emotions. When we numb sadness and pain, we numb joy and happiness. Feeling the depths of our lows enables us to fully feel the depths of our highs. It’s all connected. 

When a recent relationship ended, it felt like getting kicked in the face and punched in the heart. It was awful. For an entire day, I did not move from my couch. I meandered around Boulder feeling empty and confused. I cried. A lot.

In the past, my natural tendency would have been to fix the situation by thinking positively. Or, distract myself through wine with friends or through something else new and exciting. Instead, I let myself fully experience the depths of my sadness. It was a rough few days but after about a week, I began feeling more energized and alive than the previous few months.

Allowing myself to feel and process the pain enabled me to move forward. And now the ex and I are on great terms as friends. 

Pay attention to how you respond to sadness and pain. Is that when your vices come out to play? Do you push away negative emotions? How can you allow yourself to fully process them?

To be vulnerable is to be deeply seen. It’s to love with your whole heart and to put yourself out there. To feel vulnerable is to be alive—to exist as your most beautiful self. 

How do you exercise vulnerability? What has it done for your life? Share your story in the comments below!

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Thanks to Whitney for inspiring it and Sylvia for reading the draft.

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