On Learning To Be Vulnerable by Charlotte Haimes
Our culture does not allow us to be vulnerable. And yet, though research and personal testimonies both suggest that vulnerability is the only path to true fulfillment, for most of us, the idea of being our true, authentic selves in the workplace or even in our personal lives seems unimaginable. And that’s because we simply cannot be authentic in a culture that does not allow it and that qualifies such as weakness.
But fortunately, there is progress today with organizations, companies, leaders, and ultimately people who get it, who understand that vulnerability is not weakness and that it is the “birthplace of creativity, innovation and change,” as Dr. Brené Brown states so brilliantly in one of her TED talks.
I have been personally inspired and transformed by Dr. Brené Brown’s findings. Dr. Brené Brown is a social scientist and storyteller who, over the last 16 years, has conducted research on understanding vulnerability, amongst other taboo emotions in our culture. I have been so inspired and transformed by her work that I have made it my mission today to empower women to show up as their true, authentic selves by giving them the space and permission to be vulnerable.
But I was not always vulnerable myself. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I defined myself by the schools I attended, job titles and sexy company names. My resume was my most prized possession and taking care of it was a priority. I needed it to survive the “New York City Rat Race”, the city where I grew up in. And for a while, it worked: it allowed me to move up the corporate ladder and even make my way to Paris for a job opportunity.
Once I got to Paris though, things started to change, mostly professionally. I did not recognize myself in the work culture and in the way of socializing with peers. I felt disconnected, as if I were watching myself in a theater performance as the audience. I had written my college thesis on the Theatre of the Absurd, specifically on plays by Pirandello and Ionesco, and ironically thought of myself as a character in one of their plays. But this was work, this was real life. I came to understand it as the rules being different than what I had previously known and that the solution was in learning to adapt. I was determined to make it work, to make my transition to Paris look like a success, even if on the inside something was starting to feel off. For nearly 5 years, I tried hard to fit in and to mold myself to make it work. I even changed companies, thinking that I needed a much smaller work environment to thrive. And while the size of a company could have been a factor for my wellbeing, it wasn’t enough on its own. In retrospect, I clearly did not share the same values, but at the time, I did not know to even consider these values as necessary to my wellbeing. And so, I continued to fake it until I couldn’t anymore. I experienced insomnia for a long stretch of time, nearly 8 months. I would show up to work staring out the window, indifferent to discussions, essentially there without being there. I would come home in the evenings without an ounce of energy left to focus on the things that I enjoyed. What did I even enjoy? Oh right, I did not have a clue because I had lost complete touch with myself.
During these years in Paris, a close friend of mine in New York had sent me Brené Brown’s first Ted talk on The Power of Vulnerability. I spent a lot of time learning about her research. I bought and read all of her books and started understanding about human emotions, which in turn helped me to sift through my own. From Brené Brown, I went onto following other thought leaders (yes, I became truly obsessed) and devoured books and watched talks by many: Marie Forleo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Seth Godin, Mark Manson, Simon Sinek, Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Mel Robbins, Arianna Huffington, Adam Grant, Amy Cuddy, amongst many others. It’s important for me to type their names out because these are today’s thought leaders, the people who are making real positive impact on people’s lives, including my own. And I couldn’t be more grateful for the work they do.
Learning to be vulnerable was not something that I did as a pastime – it truly was essential to my wellbeing in this difficult period. I took the physical symptoms of distress as a major wakeup call. My body was now literally yelling at me and telling me “enough.” I left the job that I was in without another job lined up and started to focus on myself by listening to my needs. It was not always easy to look inwards because my mind had been trained to wear the mask of success and play the fakey-fakey game. But I saw no turning back and, in truth, saw no other exit strategy.
The best way I can sum up this introspective phase is by calling it the battle with my self, an internal emotional battle between two parts: my inner critic vs. my inner voice. My inner critic is very loud and opinionated, constantly reminding me that I am not good enough, that I will never make it in any endeavor, shaming me into believing that I have no worth. The inner voice, on the other hand, is very soft-spoken, barely there. It’s almost like it doesn’t even know it has a voice. But it is there… more like a lingering flame of a candle that just doesn’t want to burn out. It’s not as easy for me to put words on my inner voice because listening to it was and still is a rather new practice. I know when the inner voice is winning though because it usually feels like surrender, like letting go… in a relieving way. It is giving room to doubt, hurt and fear to exist and to be heard. It is giving me permission to be me, to be my imperfect self. This is being vulnerable. And what a realization! I can finally breathe, like oxygen.
No, vulnerability is not weakness. “Vulnerability is having the courage to show up and be seen,” another way Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as. And it is – it is the truest act of bravery to show up as your true self, considering that we live in a culture of appearances, one in which we are trapped behind social pressures and the fear of being judged. It is certainly not always comfortable to be vulnerable because it entails having to face how we really feel, which is terrifying. We’re also confronted with people and organizations who do not know how to embrace it or do not see value in it and that can sometimes feel isolating. Yes, it is uncomfortable at times, but when we move past the discomfort through surrender and acceptance, embracing vulnerability becomes freeing, a surrender to your true self. And for me, and hopefully for you too, it is a risk that is worth taking.
Charlotte Haimes is making waves. After moving to Paris to work at a top French luxury company, she decided that this side of the corporate world wasn’t for her and redirected her energy towards a new project, founding Women Making Waves. This community for women aims to promote self-awareness and self-confidence through healthy and positive values. The club’s mission? “Every woman deserves to make her mark in this world, big or small, and that can only happen through understanding and believing in who she is. Some would say this is about defining success on your own terms, but Charlotte likes to say this is about being you.”