When I was small, I stood at the back of ballet class. I didn’t want to be seen – I wanted to follow. Now I stand at the front. And I am followed. The perceived risk has reduced somewhat… that is, the risk of being judged, or criticised, or simply laughed at. But more importantly, with time, I have learnt to embrace the fear of vulnerability.
Vulnerability is the essence of a strong and authentic connection. It is about showing up and sharing something in the knowledge that it may – or may not – be accepted, appreciated, or respected by the recipient. It arises from a fundamental exchange in power between the two parties and thus, as Seth Godin writes, ‘Vulnerable is the only way we can feel when we truly show the art we’ve made’.
Vulnerability manifests as a sense of exposure, leading perhaps to discomfort, doubt, or defensive behaviour when we are called upon to reveal something of ourselves: sharing a vision for the company, expertise with an audience, critical thought in an article, or hopes and dreams with a coach. Such a reaction is natural as we all have an inner critic, and we perceive certain situations as inherently risky; perhaps when we are called on to perform, or to share reflections on our performance; or when we choose to lead, rather than follow.
Exposure can trigger your ‘flight or fight’ mode, and while some avoid this state of vulnerability, some actively seek it out. Indeed, the depth of your vulnerability is likely to indicate the significance or authenticity of your contribution.
For my clients, it is ultimately the fear of vulnerability that underpins much of their resistance. When they experience being ‘stuck’ it is often vulnerability, or rather anticipation of vulnerability, that paralyses them. For to create/to give/to share is a voluntary exchange of power which opens up the possibility of judgement, and therefore rejection. It takes courage to accept this risk and to share with accountability, thereby demonstrating a willingness to take responsibility regardless of the outcome.
So, how do you learn to embrace the fear of vulnerability? How do you show up again and again, and continue to share your truth with the world? What is your source of courage… and how do you dare to share?
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? George Berkeley