Rethinking vulnerability while working from home: Lessons learned from Brené Brown

A quick Bing search of vulnerability defines the word as “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” or “open to attack or damage”.  

I cannot personally think of any way that “vulnerability” would be beneficial for me, in my personal or professional relationships. It sounds scary, daunting—all my instincts tell me to fight or fly. 

This negative response to vulnerability has deeply shaped us, as our lives at work and at home have arguably never been more blurred since this pandemic began. This blend reveals the chinks in our armor, as coworkers are now privy to the private, intimate lives we live with our partners, kids, parents, or pets.  How can those of us who work from home learn to see vulnerability as an asset, and not as a weakness? 

We can start by taking a deep breath, and turning to the expert on the subject—researcher and storyteller (as well as proud Texan), Brené Brown.  

Understanding vulnerability  

In her Ted Talk, “Listening to shame”, Brené Brown reflects on her unexpected rise to fame and the key takeaways from her research studying shame, courage, vulnerability, and empathy. She quickly deconstructs the “dangerous myth” of vulnerability. She says simply, but powerfully, “Vulnerability is not weakness”.  

This misconception is so pervasive, that when asked to speak at other events, requestors would say “Dr. Brown, we loved your TED talk. We'd like you to come in and speak. We'd appreciate it if you wouldn't mention vulnerability or shame."   

So, if vulnerability while working from home is not a disadvantage, what is it? 

Brown says simply, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”—all things we value in the workplace.  

How is vulnerability connected to shame? 

The journey to vulnerability, creativity, innovation, and change is not easy. Brené continues her speech by noting that she did not understand vulnerability without first learning about shame. She says that because shame brought her to vulnerability, Brown had to follow her moral code— “you've got to dance with the one who brung ya". 

Shame is “I am bad”. And the truth is we have all thought that thought, in various moments of our lives. And shame affects men and women differently.  

Brown states for women, shame is “Do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat.” For men, it is simple, but devastating: “Do not be perceived as weak.” 

Shame is pervasive. Brené says we must understand how it affects us as a society, at work, and at home, so we can overcome it “and get back to each other”. 

Beating shame through vulnerability   

Empathy is the cure for shame. Dr. Brown says “The most powerful two words when we’re in struggle? Me too.” 

Brené advises that we need to acknowledge that we will never be perfect. We will never be ready to be vulnerable. We all want to be seen, as do the people we love and the people we work with. We all want to be viewed as the imperfect, daring human beings we are.  

Leveraging vulnerability while working from home 

The wise words shared by Brené could not be more timely. Vulnerability is built in to working from home—our coworkers see us in our homes and thus who we are when we are not in the office.  

So, I am going to follow Brené’s advice and acknowledge how I am vulnerable during this time. I vow to be vulnerable when and where I can, so that I may be more creative, innovative, and create change at my organization and at home.   

I encourage you all to do the same.  

Photo by Nina Uhlíková from Pexels

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