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It feels like that dream where you’re naked in public

It feels like that dream where you’re naked in public

by Moyra Mackie on May 21, 2016

That’s what vulnerability feels like according to Brené Brown.  She also says:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness….The intention and outcome of vulnerability is trust, intimacy and connection.”

The problem is we all have our naked in public memories

This is mine:

When I was at junior school I loved to spend school break times on the climbing frames in the playground.  I grew up in Zimbabwe and my memories are that climbing trees and building forts were equal opportunities activities – we weren’t locked in a pink ghetto back then.

However, being a girl did present some challenges.  This was the seventies and school uniform was a very short blue and white checked dress.  The answer was that we all also wore school issue matching “knickers” to preserve our dignity, if not our sense of style.  This allowed me to indulge my eight year old passion for hanging upside down or swinging round and round on high parallel bars.

Except one day, as I flung my legs over the bar and let myself fall upside down, I realised something felt different.

I lifted my head up towards the bar and to my horror I realised I was still wearing my short pajama bottoms.  I still have a vivid picture of the equally vivid pink and orange flowers that confronted me.  I quickly fell to the floor and covered up, spending the rest of the day worrying about what I had under my dress.

Vulnerability + judgement = shame

The strange thing is I have no recollection of the reaction of my friends.  I can’t remember anyone saying anything, although someone must have.

What I can still remember are my feelings – in my vulnerability I judged myself and felt ashamed.  That moment is seared into my mind.  As I write it down I can feel myself reliving some of those feelings and a doubt crosses my mind as to whether I should be sharing this.

Will you judge me like I judged myself?

This propensity to judge ourselves, and to fear the judgement of others, is life-limiting. It limits our ability to connect with others and to learn and grow.

Doing good work involves vulnerability

This is Judy Clement Wall self-described “artist, writer, doodler, love warrior”:

“The best works of art are acts of public nudity. The artist, subtly or overtly, is exposed, even in works of fiction, even if the exposure lies only in the creator’s desire to communicate something true and real. To some degree, that kind of nakedness is inherent to the act of putting one’s work out into the world where it can be accepted or rejected, praised or ridiculed. Putting your art out there for everyone to see is an act of badassery for sure, and also faith, and love, and selfhood, and rebellion.

And I think the same is true for each of us and the act of putting ourselves – our most honest, truest, open-hearted selves – out into the world. It’s risky behavior. You could get hurt, or you could get truly seen, truly understood, truly loved.”

Choosing vulnerability vs living with vulnerability

I’ve come to think that it’s important to recognise the different ways we are vulnerable.

Ambient vulnerability

Running my own business for the last eight years I’ve got used to the background hum of vulnerability.

Where is my next job coming from?  When will my client pay me?  How much should I charge?  What if I lose this pitch?

Of course I chose to leave the certainty and protection of a bigger consultancy so I still feel strong emotional attachment to the people who gave me my first contract when I was feeling consciously and vividly vulnerable.

Moments of mindful vulnerability

In order to not just survive, but thrive, I need to keep taking risks. Writing blog posts, speaking in public, creating new programmes, knocking on new doors, whilst that ambient vulnerability hums away.  I think this background emotion is what can make it even harder to put down the invisible (and ultimately illusory) cloak of invincibility.

In order to try and control those un-chosen moments (cash flow, sales pipeline, financial crash, clients reneging on deals, etc) we restrict our voluntary vulnerability.  I know I do.

Take imperfect action

Then I  listened to Darren Rowse from ProBlogger in which he talked directly to that fear of getting it wrong and being found out.  He demonstrated that projects don’t have to be perfect to be launched on the world, taking imperfect action was better than being frozen and doing nothing at all.

So inspired by Darren, I’ve decided to try my hand at live Q&A via the Facebook Livestream app. I want to communicate something true and real but the medium  terrifies me and I could fail.  Those social media memes are wrong when they say that if you want something enough and visualise it, you will get it.  As Brené Brown says:

“If you’re brave enough often enough, you’re going to go down.”

I’ve failed at many things that have been very important to me and the only way I think I keep taking risks and galvanising myself into action is to stop focussing on “What if I fail?” and choose to ask “What if I succeed?”

Choose courage and curiosity over comfort

On good days I’m with the author Neil Gaiman when he says:

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself.  That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

(If you’re interested in watching me take my imperfect action, please join our group Time to Think here where we will be – perhaps appropriately – talking about how to deal with stress and stressful situations.)

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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