How to Cultivate Vulnerability

by Tammy Strobel on January 24, 2011

What does it mean to be vulnerable? And what does it mean to tell your story online? How does living simply relate to vulnerability? These questions have been on my mind lately and I’ve been searching for answers.

Dr. Brené Brown answered a number of these questions in her recent TED Talk. Brown shares why vulnerability, authenticity, and shame are key parts of the human story.

As Brown pointed out, you can’t numb out all the hard feelings because in the process you numb joy and happiness too. For example, when I worked in the investment management industry I felt like I was suffocating under a sheet of bubble wrap and didn’t know how to pop-out of the packaging. So I started numbing my depression through food and alcohol. But that didn’t work out so well because I wasn’t dealing with my underlying problems, including fear, shame, and low self-esteem.

We’re all striving to be real, authentic people and one way to do that is by learning to be a little more vulnerable. Cultivating vulnerability in your life doesn’t have to be so difficult.

Try some of these ideas on for size:

1. Be yourself.

2. Remember you are worthy of love, affection, and belonging.

3. Lean into the discomfort of life.

4. Connection is why we are here.

5. Everyone experiences shame and fear.

6. Let yourself be seen.

7. It’s okay to be imperfect.

8. Let go of who you think you “should be.”

9. It’s okay to take risks.

10. Stop trying to control and predict everything.

11. Practice gratitude and joy.

12. Embrace vulnerability.

Last word . . .

Simplicity relates to everything I do, including where I live, my small business, relationships, travel, and more. That’s why my writing here is so broad. But as I move forward into 2011, I want my writing to be vulnerable. Don’t worry RowdyKittens isn’t going to revert back to my old personal journal. Rather, my aim is to help you through storytelling, tips, and tools.

Micro-action: Brainstorm ways you can cultivate vulnerability in your own life and start reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brené Brown. I purchased the book this weekend and so far it’s fantastic.

 

1 John Hayden January 24, 2011

I need to listen to Ms. Brown’s talk multiple times. Not that it’s difficult to understand — only that it’s profound and contains so many different but related insights. I can’t absorb so many insights at one sitting.

Shame = Fear that we’re not WORTHY of being connected. I think I got that one. I’ll have to think about that a lot.

One personal observation: If you want to feel Really Vulnerable, try running for a low-level political office. You have to let yourself “be seen” in public, and everyone in your community can vote on how totally unworthy you are.

2 Kathryn Jennex January 24, 2011

I am vulnerable. That is why I find it soo difficult to blog about me and my story…. I do everything to keep people from seeing that side of me. *sigh* I look forward to your tips and tools.

Thanks Tammy! I love Rowdy Kittens.

3 Mallory January 24, 2011

I watched this TED talk a few weeks back and loved it! Now I really want to read her book, The Gifts or Imperfection. Has anyone read it yet?

4 Tammy January 24, 2011

@Mallory – I’m about a quarter of the way through the book and so far it’s awesome. If you don’t want to buy it, check it out of the library. :)

Thanks for reading!

5 Mallory January 25, 2011

Sweet – I figured it would be good after watching her talk. Isn’t the library the best thing ever?! I’m totally addicted and have a pile of about 6 books on my floor right now. Last I checked, though, they didn’t have this book, but I’m hoping they get it soon:) Keep us updated when you finish the book.

6 Gena S January 24, 2011

Tammy,

Thanks for such an insightful piece. Having had all too recent experiences that acquainted me with the need for #s 3 & 10 especially, this article just continues to underscore the reality of the need to deal with our fears and become (and hopefully) remain vulnerable with those we go through life with. #11; practicing gratitude & joy was how I overcame some truly heartbreaking and difficult to live through situations. That in itself may have been nothing less or more than the grace of God; as many days choosing joy or gratefulness or abundance was not within my ability. That being said, it was in a particularly introspective and difficult season that I originally found your blog and often found your broad range of topics to be just the thing I needed that day to get past my own feelings and take yet another step toward looking outward and onward. Everyone we have turned on to this blog has had a similar reaction, so we love that you’re addressing such a great variety of topics. We look forward to more wonderful Rowdy Kittens content in the months ahead!

7 Tammy January 24, 2011

Thanks Gena.

For me practicing gratitude is so so important because we are extremely privileged. Especially, when you think of all the folks in the states and around the world who don’t have access to basic necessities, like clean drinking water or even a safe home.

Thank you for reading! :)

8 Michael January 24, 2011

Man, Tammy!! This is AWESOME!! Thank you so much for sharing this and sharing yourself! :) <3

9 Katie | Momentum Gathering January 24, 2011

I bought the book too and can’t wait to receive it and start reading. Love Brene’s message and yours too Tammy. You are a lovely writer and truly, it is your willingness to be vulnerable that makes your words sing.

10 Tammy January 24, 2011

Thanks Katie and Michael – you two rock! :)

11 Luinae January 24, 2011

I love how you just put “be yourself” there like it’s an easy change to make. I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but being in high school, it’s sort of scary to be myself. What if myself is wrong? What if I don’t even know to be myself anymore? What can I do for that?

12 Tammy January 24, 2011

@Luinae – I never said these changes were “easy to make.” I still struggle with a lot of this stuff. And whether you’re in high school or 32 (like me) it’s scary to just “be yourself.” With that being said, it important to push past that fear and keep trying. More importantly, ask for help if you are struggling.

I just took a peek at your blog and from what I can see, I don’t think being you is “wrong.” You are smart and intelligent young woman. Keep pursing your passions!

As for your last two questions, I highly recommend reading Brown’s book. Whenever I’m having a hard time trying to figure out “who I am” I turn to books and writing. It always helps.

Anyone else have suggestions?

Wishing you all the best.

13 Luinae January 24, 2011

Thanks. I didn’t think you meant it was easy, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to go, when it feels like you’re starting from nowhere.

I’ve requested her book from my local library- thanks for the reccomendation!

14 Anonymous January 24, 2011

@Luinae
First, you have a leg up on the rest of us. You’re reading about being yourself and living with intention and you’re in high school. I’m 33 and just starting to “be myself” more.

I hated high school. Hate is a strong word. But by my senior year I would have given anything not to be there. Looking back the only thing I wish I could tell high school me is this: be yourself. That means not worrying aboutwhat other people think or say about me. It’s a tall order and I’m not sure I would have been able to do it. But I hope you can.

Life is so much more than high school. I could not have imagined the beauty and joy the rest of my life would bring when I was 16. Be brave and be yourself.

15 Luinae January 24, 2011

Thanks- it’s nice to have kind words. And it IS very nice to know that the world won’t always be this way- not that’s terrible right now. Mostly, it’s pretty good. But the idea that there is a bigger world is EXCITING.

16 sarah January 24, 2011

I love love your intention to practice vulnerability, it takes great inner strength and self-esteem- the opposite to what many believe, I am loking forward to reading more!

17 Carlin January 24, 2011

wow, that was really awesome! thanks for posting it so I could find it :)

18 Michelle January 25, 2011

One of the things that has always struck me about your blog is your openness and vulnerability. As a shy, anxious person, I’ve always admired your ability to share your story as it really is, and it has inspired me to be more open and less embarrassed of myself. It reminds me of something a professor said in college: when we attempt to hide ourselves away, we aren’t covering up some horrid strangeness that marks us as Other, but the ordinariness of our everyday lives that unites us all. Thank you, Tammy.

19 Tammy January 25, 2011

Michelle – WOW, I’m so blown away. Thank you for the kind words and leaving such a beautiful comment. You just made my whole day. :)

20 Bridget January 25, 2011

What an awesome and inspiring talk she gave. I can’t even remember how I found your blog but I just wanted to say I have found inspiration and plenty of food for thought from it. Thank you!

21 Kristy Powell January 25, 2011

I can remember where I was when I was able to be confront myself about not being honest with myself and others, and thus not authentic, not vulnerable, not transparent. That moment was completely shattering and nauseating and it gave me the opportunity to live as I was created. The following year I’d say was incredibly cathartic, but also ridiculously uncomfortable. I was on a mission to right a bunch of wrongs and become absolutely transparent with those I cared for and those who cared for me (and authentic at least with everyone else). That was a defining time in my life and it was through prayer that I was afforded the window to that alternative path of authenticity.

This is essentially why I chose to protest. I felt I wasn’t affording myself the opportunity to be authentic. I felt confined and restrained. It was time to publicly say, “Despite you’re thinking I’m crazy, this is who I am, this matters to me, and I’m really happy about that.” And it has been a little uncomfortable and a LOT freeing. A beautiful thing vulnerability is.

22 Jimi January 26, 2011

I am going through a sort of quest to find out who I really am and expressing my own vulnerability, having numbed feelings since early childhood. This TED lecture was enlightening. There is something within it all that she says makes me so sad, not sure exactly what that is at the moment. But I am also glad to be given the opportunity to understand something important about myself.

Strange as it is, it is very hard to see you Tammy as someone having a “couple of beers and a banana nut muffin”, being what you are today. Good to hear things can be changed for the better, if one gets down to the essential issues.:)

23 stlcatlady (aka Dawn) January 26, 2011

I come to your site a couple of times a week for inspiration. Wow; today got a mega dose. I sit here at my kitchen table, drinking my coffee, weeping. I just sent out a note to several of my friends to “go, go now, watch this RIGHT NOW.” How strange are connections and serendipity. Thank you for putting this talk into my hands.

24 Sarita Li January 26, 2011

Hi Tammy!

Thanks for sharing this. I’ve just been studying infant and toddler education, focusing on helping children develop as problem-solvers and be risk-takers. Adult modeling is a big part of that, including expressing feelings honestly/sending clear messages and not pretending to be perfect in front of kids. This talk brought up a lot of the things we need to practice in order to cultivate that authenticity and open up to connection.

Sarita Li

25 Marnie January 26, 2011

Leaning into discomfort has been a life-saver for me. I’d never be where I am right now if I hadn’t ventured outside my comfort zone. Getting comfortable with myself was quite a journey and still continues today.

26 stlcatlady (aka Dawn) January 27, 2011

So, I found this so impactful (as I commented yesterday, sorry to be a stalker here) that I got my husband to watch it with me again last night after dinner. We laughed together and cried. His reaction was the same as mine had been: “We HAVE to show this to so-and-so and so-and-so.” Then we had this long talk about vulnerability. A talk that can inspire long, introspective conversations with my husband? What’s not to like about that?) Anyway, just wanted to pop in again and say “thank you.” Hugs!

27 Lauren M.F. January 28, 2011

Thanks for this great post, and for taking the plunge to make your future blog writing more vulnerable. In the past few months I have discovered that while it is easy for me to care for others and to encourage them to open up to me, it is astoundingly difficult for me to do the reverse, to trust others deeply and be vulnerable, realizing that our relationship will improve in the process.

28 Steven Crisp January 28, 2011

Tammy,

That was a great link to Brené Brown talk. I myself have always had an aversion to the mushy, squishy, jello-on-the-wall like topics, such as vulnerability.

She really helped me open my eyes as to why, and what it means. As I’ve grown over the past 10 years or so, I have certainly begun the shift in this direction, but this was very helpful and insightful.

Thanks for the post. I’m sharing it on my blog as well.

29 Laurie January 29, 2011

Tammy, thank you so much, I really needed to hear that this week. Vulnerability is something I’ve been grappling with lately, after years of thinking I should never let anyone see it in me. I’m finding that turning in to it can truly be a “birthplace for joy” as Brene says. Looking at the things that make me vulnerable, and inhabiting the feelings that are attached to those things, can be so scary. But what I’m finding, and what I wish I would’ve embraced years ago, is that the “excruciating” part of that process doesn’t last long. It sucks while I’m in it, but it leads to release. I’m finding freedom from things that have plagued me for years, and feel a sense of belonging in my own life and in my relationships with others that for a long time felt missing.

I’m really looking forward to your “more vulnerable writing.” I think that’s an awesome direction. :)

30 Roni October 26, 2011

Maybe one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read and one I am grateful to have heard tonight. Wish I had written it myself! Thank you for sharing it.:)

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