Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: The Physics of Vulnerability

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. I’m going to be using this space on Wednesdays to reflect on book that I’ve read recently. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. I don’t aim to point out the parts I agree or disagree with, but rather to reflect on whatever the book caused me to start thinking about. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our first week reading Brené Brown’s new book Rising Strong.

There was a time, early in my career, when I was asked a direct question about the church I worked for and my place in it. And because I had grown up in a home where my parents practiced vulnerability and because I generally believed in the goodness of people and because I (incorrectly) assessed that I was safe, I told the truth.

And I lost my job. And it hurt. Lesson learned.

Thanks largely to Brené’s work (can we just call her Brené, as if we’re friends?), vulnerability has become a buzzword. It seems like everyone is talking about vulnerability these days. But, until you’ve actually put yourself out there and fallen flat on your face, it’s just that – a buzzword.

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in my friends’ living room while we were talking about our Enneagram Types, and the question at hand was: “Name what is difficult to know about yourself.” I was the last to share, and so while others were sharing, I was fighting an internal battle about how much to say. Part of me wanted to say just enough to appear vulnerable without actually being vulnerable. I’ll call this “socially acceptable vulnerability.” For me, this is the stuff I’d share with just about anyone, if they asked and gave any indication that they would listen, the stuff I would share in a talk or a blog post.

But this group of people is different. I have lots of friends, but this is my safest place. If I don’t tell these people, then it’s likely going to stay locked inside. And so, I said my truth. And there were tears. And then, I didn’t want to talk anymore (which is really saying something, because I talk a lot.) And even though I struggled a little bit with vulnerability hangover the next day, I know it was good for me to speak the truest thing about myself to the people who are safest to me. I fully believe Brené that this is the pathway to wholeheartedness.

But sometimes, you put yourself out there – like I did in my first church – and you get your ass handed to you. That’s what Rising Strong is about. It’s about getting back up after you’ve put yourself out there – you said the hard thing, you created something, you took a risk – and you fell flat on your face and now you’re embarrassed or hurt or just broken, and you want to run and hide and never be vulnerable again.

This first chapter of Rising Strong is a list of the “ten rules of engagement for rising strong,” i.e., “the basic tenets about being brave, risking vulnerability, and overcoming adversity that are useful to understand before we get started.” If you’ve read The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, some of these ideas will feel familiar. Each could probably warrant a post, but I’ll just point to the one that captured my attention (feel free to tell us yours in the comments!). Mine was number six:

Rising Strong is the same process whether you’re navigating personal or professional struggles.

Earlier in the post I told a story about vulnerability in my work and then I told a story about vulnerability in my personal life. I know there are differences between the two – and for some of us the degree of difference will vary – but I believe we are whole persons. We practice appropriate vulnerability in our lives or we don’t. We either pay attention to what’s happening inside of us or we don’t. We can’t claim wholeheartedness and then completely bifurcate ourselves between a “self at work” and a “self at home,” or a “self with one group of people,” and “self with a different group.”

As I’ve thought about vulnerability over the last couple years – and, concurrently, thought of the spiritual journey of moving from false self to true self – the characteristic that is becoming most significant to me is curiosity. There will be more to say about curiosity in chapter 4, but for now, let me quote Brené at length. She’s talking about the link between personal and professional struggles and she identifies strong curiosity as a common thread between the two worlds. She writes:

The most transformative and resilient leaders that I’ve worked with over the course of my career have three things in common: First, they recognize the central role that relationships and story play in culture and strategy, and they stay curious about their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Second, they understand and stay curious about how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected in the people they lead, and how those factors affect relationships and perception. And, third, they have the ability and willingness to lean into discomfort and vulnerability.

So, maybe a good place to wrap up this post would be to ask ourselves this question: “What are the emotions, thoughts and behaviors I need to get curious about?” Here are couple that might ignite some curiosity for you:

Every time this person walks into the room I get agitated and annoyed. What’s going on in me that makes me feel that way?

I find myself disagreeing with this person all the time. Is it really an ideas thing, or is it something else in me?

I find myself withdrawing from a particular relationship. What’s going on there?

I’m often restless/anxious/worried/angry/disappointed/sad (pick one)… Where is this feeling coming from?

And maybe, if we really want to walk down the vulnerability road, as we get curious, it will lead to healing insights and maybe even conversations – in both our professional and personal lives. But it starts with curiousity.

Okay, this post has been long, the latte has gone cold by now. Please share or comment – or you can always email me directly.  Next Wednesday, we’ll work through chapter two.

Thanks for journeying through this book with me!

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