The other night I was aimlessly perusing on Facebook when I saw that a friend of mine had shared a TED Talk titled “The Power of Vulnerability”. It was listed as one of the most popular TED Talks of all time, boasting over 32 million views, so I decided to give it a try.
The talk originally occurred over seven years ago, and was hosted by Dr. Brené Brown, a renowned research professor at the University of Houston. It was in that twenty minutes that I had learned more about self worth, vulnerability and courage than I had in my 24 years of life.
I paused the talk, whipped out my laptop and began to copy down some of her most valuable findings. Outlined below are (some) of Brown’s best pieces of advice, with some of my own input, on how to practice vulnerability in your daily life.
1. Connection is why we’re here, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.
From the beginning of time, the human race has been founded on the principle of connection. The origin of Adam and Eve, tribes, herds and packs. We’re born into the world from parents and are accompanied by siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. It’s those people that we form our first real connections with. As we get older and are introduced to the world outside of our families, we create more bonds in the form of friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, and husbands/ wives to further affirm that the concept of belonging is ingrained into our DNA.
2. In order for connection to happen, we need ourselves to be seen.
In order to make connections, we have to not only understand ourselves, but feel good about who that person is. It’s only when we feel good about ourselves that we form positive, healthy relationships with others. Brown says that it all boils down to a sense of worthiness:
“People who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection.” — Brené Brown
In all of her years of research and hundreds of thousands of interviews, Brown realized that people who felt a sense of worthiness had four things in common. They were whole-hearted individuals who were courageous, compassionate, connected and vulnerable.
3. Have a sense of courage.
Brown explains that the word courage comes from the Latin, Cor, (pronounced Ker), meaning heart. Essentially, courage is “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”. People who have the guts to acknowledge their imperfection form the most sincere bonds.
4. Be unapologetically compassionate.
Brown notes that compassion is something we must first practice with ourselves before we can give it to other people. The idea of empathy, being able to put yourself in the shoes of others, goes a long way in the most successful of connections. It’s proof that in the darkest times, your loved ones feel like they’re not alone.
5. Don’t fear connection, embrace it.
Brown correlates connection with authenticity. People who make the most real, authentic connections are those who are willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they actually are.
“… They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability making them comfortable, nor did they talk about it be excruciating.. They talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first. The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. The willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.” — Brené Brown
In a career where she had believed that the fundamental building blocks of research were the ability to control and predict, it was those two things that lead her to the discovery that the way to live is with vulnerability, to stop controlling and predicting.
The crowd roared in laughter at the mention of the concept. I think it’s fair to say we all shift in our seats a bit at the idea of surrendering control, loosening our grips on the reigns of life and just letting it happen.
When Brown dove back into her research to figure out why we as humans struggle with the concept of vulnerability, she found that the human habit of practicing numbness was at its core.
“We live in a vulnerable world, and one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. Problem is, you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. I don’t want to feel these…It becomes a dangerous cycle.” — Brené Brown
It’s vital that we put our finger on the places, people, events, commitments and emotions that scare us most. Facing those things with with an open heart and mind is central to our growth as human beings.
6. Let go of the idea of perfection.
From a young age, perfection is something we’re taught is attainable if you try hard enough. Perfecting a sport will get you the scholarship of your dreams, perfecting your body will attract the right partner. We idealize the concept of being perfect, but we’re almost never taught that it’s not realistic.
“We perfect our children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, ‘Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect, to make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade.’ That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say you know what, you’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that and i think we’ll end the problems we see today.” — Brené Brown
I’ll leave you with one of Brown’s final quotes that made vulnerability appear less terrifying, one that made me want to continue being vulnerable in my daily life. I will no longer continue to see vulnerability as my biggest weakness, but rather as my biggest strength.
“Let ourselves be seen. Deeply seen. Vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee. Practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, where we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much?’, ‘Can i believe in this this passionately?’, ‘Can I be this fierce about this?’. Just to be able to stop and instead of catastrophizing what might happen to say, ‘I’m just so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means im alive’.
Believe that you are enough. When we work from a place that says we’re enough, then we stop screaming and start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.” — Brené Brown
To watch Brown’s full TED Talk, click here.