In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There”, Alice ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror’s reflection. Through a wall-hung mirror hanging above the fireplace, she discovers that she’s able to step through it to an alternative world.
How many of us have peered into our own Looking Glass and wondered what our alternative world would be or could be? And, how often does our own vulnerability keep us from having that ‘alternative world’ of new experiences where we explore all of life’s possibilities?
Brene’ Brown has become somewhat of an expert on vulnerability after years of research on it together with topics covering courage, authenticity, and shame. Success blanketed Brene after she appeared on TED covering a talk on vulnerability. Why? She not only shared quantitative data on the subject but Brene allowed herself to be personally and professionally vulnerable – to expose herself to a group of strangers, only later to have the video go viral – quite unexpectedly. She had stepped through the Looking Glass.
Brene’ went on to write a book on vulnerability called, ‘Daring Greatly’. In it she defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. For instance, loving someone so much that the thought of losing them leaves you feeling vulnerable. Or, putting ideas out on the web whether in a blog, a posting on Facebook, or a photo on Pinterest – what if someone doesn’t like it?
Brene’ writes, “If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it”. She emphasizes that despite what many of us think, vulnerability does not equal weakness.
Unlike fear where a threat exists, vulnerability gambles with what we perceive as our own emotional safe-haven. Whether it feels good or not, we know what to expect.
Take for instance the woman who wanted to make a career change. She thought ‘fear’ kept her from making the leap since her line of work had always provided some level of security and afforded a comfortable life style. However, working alongside horse and coach, she discovered that it wasn’t really fear that kept her from making the career transition, rather it was vulnerability – letting go of who she’d been and the uncertainty of what she would become down the road -essentially letting go of the identity she’d created and stepping into an alternative world. And yet, she wanted the change so badly, she knew the only path to it was revealing herself to the unknown – the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure Brene’ talks about.
Does vulnerability ever feel good? Probably not, at least initially. But when we have the courage to embrace our vulnerability, comfort in it grows. Consequently, we allow change and growth in many aspects of our lives – through our leadership at work or in the community, as parents, within our careers, and in our relationships.
And yet, sometimes circumstances happen outside our control and leave us vulnerable. It’s during those times that we need to seek out the trust of others, or perhaps just trusting more deeply in ourselves.
Brene’s claim is that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” It’s time for us to ask ourselves what possibilities exist if we dare to be more vulnerable? What wants and needs to change? What would we see in our Looking Glass if we each dug a little deeper, took a deep breath, threw out other’s criticisms, and were courageous enough to unveil a new world though our own vulnerability?