Vulnerability is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of people, especially black women. Many people associate the word with weakness. And weakness is a terrible thing, especially for a black woman. Right? Maybe not. If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown allow me to introduce you. She has made a study of vulnerability. My first question is probably the same as yours, how does one study vulnerability. Very carefully I suppose. I would like to focus on her results for this post. There is so much to say about understanding vulnerability that I can’t possibly address it all in one post.
I came to hear about Brene Brown and her TED talk (see below) that went viral during the stage in my life where I was recovering from a flood and a layoff at work. I was totally shut down. What I thought I was doing was blocking the negative feelings, numbing myself to the pain. What I found out was that I was also blocking positive feelings. You can’t block one without blocking the other. However being vulnerable allows you to not only feel the pain you’re feeling but work through it. The bonus is you also get to feel any joy, happiness that comes along. I admit, when I told to watch this video I thought the concept was about hugging some trees.
However I found Mrs. Brown to be quite refreshing. If you go past the video and read her books you find that she practices what she preaches. She was terrified to give that talk. In her books, such as, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, she reveals her own practices for dealing with the negative feelings. Vulnerability is about being authentic and open about what you’re experiencing. It’s not about weakness at all. Letting your facade down and telling another human being “I’m hurt”, “I need help”, “I’m scared”, etc. is probably one of the most courageous things you can do.
As black women we are, generally speaking, raised to be “strong black women”. We’re taught not to rely on a man but to be able to take care of the household, kill the pig and bring home the bacon. Never let them see you sweat. And not under any circumstance will we show a hint of weakness. When you dissect most of the commentary or stereotypes of black women it comes down to the supposed “angry black woman syndrome” or ABS. We’re seen as difficult, attitudinal, and never satisfied. Here’s a thought, what if it isn’t our strength that’s our power but rather our vulnerability?
Ask yourself how your relationships would be different if you let down your guard. Any relationship…romantic, professional, familial, friendly, etc. Would revealing a softer side of yourself, provided the recipient is deserving of such a gift, get you more of what you want? Would conceding to the other person you lashed out because you were hurt or scared not lend more credibility to your position not just in the disagreement but in the relationship? I submit that it isn’t the stoic nature of the black woman that drives us to the top but rather being able to incorporate our authentic selves into the everyday interactions that go further.
Easier said than done I know. We’re so often vilified if we speak our minds professionally and reasonably. But that’s where wisdom can come into play. Choose your moments wisely. Again vulnerability isn’t about over-sharing or letting someone in who will hurt you. I witnessed one of the most beautiful moments of vulnerability from a high ranking employee was fired. The story had been formulated he was looking for new opportunities but he laid himself bare to me telling me the truth. He was a white man. Before this I thought, wrongly, that they don’t have a need for vulnerability at the top. I was so wrong. I was honored he trusted me with his truth but more than that I set it as an example for myself. I have never regretted that decision and have found power in that position.
Practice makes perfect. Just remove one brick from your wall for someone you trust.
Real Talk | Real Things | Real Results
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