Making vulnerable cool

By Scott Schimmel

“Look- we know you’re not doing well; you’re stuck, and you’re not sure what to do next. If you’d learn to be vulnerable and ask for help, we can help you.”

Have you ever had someone else expose your vulnerabilities? I’m not necessarily talking about a time when someone shared feedback or criticism that helped you uncover a blind spot. I’m talking about a moment when someone points right into one of your dark shadows with a big, 10,000 watt flashlight and says, “peekaboo!”

Several years ago I was a member of an executive team that met together weekly and shared updates about the progress and health of our departments. Mine had been declining for weeks, moving quickly from a small leak to a deluge of losses right under my nose. Every week I would beat around the bush and share about “some challenges we’re having”, and talk large about the solutions I was putting into place, in the midst of listing five or six issues out of my control and people that I could blame.

My colleagues had heard enough, they had whispered to each other (likely for weeks) about issues and problems I had that they could see from a mile away, and they finally had the nerve to put me on notice. 

Thanks to Brene Brown and her TED talks and books, it’s becoming cool to be vulnerable. There are articles from business publications published daily about emotional intelligence and the bottom line impact of adopting a leadership style that is vulnerability based. I’ve had to learn that less through reading and more through life’s practice. 

I got the message growing up, from no one in particular, that you’re not supposed to share your problems with other people. The charge to “grow up” meant “suck it up” to me, and take care of my own business without infringing on anyone else. 

At the YouSchool, as we’ve been building a working definition of what it actually means to be an adult, counterintuitively, adults are people who open up to others regularly and invite help from all angles. It doesn’t mean they shirk their responsibilities. In fact, adults take full responsibility for their roles, behaviors, and outcomes. Instead, it means that they depend on others to get what they need to fulfill their responsibilities. 

Adolescents and emerging adults are still having their concepts of life being formed. They need several adults who will teach them about life well-lived by modeling effective living for them. They need caring adults who will step into their worlds and point out areas they could use help in, with gentle but tangible offers to help if they’d like it. 

What are you modeling for the young people in your life?

  • Are you a big time complainer, teaching them that responsibility is a burden?
  • Are you a grin-it-and-bear-it martyr, who never lets your weakness show?
  • Or are you a real human being, who struggles to meet demands and expectations with honest and humble admission that you don’t always have what you need?

No matter what your MO is, everyone can grow in authentic vulnerability. Take a few moments to watch and listen to Brene.