Recently, as part of a corporate learning and development initiative, I was asked to attend a training program which required me to submit a 360° feedback from my colleagues which included my team, stakeholders and reporting managers. They would need to provide their feedback on me and it would be reviewed as part of the program. I was glad in a way that I would come to know what my colleagues think about my working style and that would be helpful for my growth, because, behind the mask of anonymity they would be more open to telling the truth. But, to be very honest, I was more apprehensive than excited. What if there were negatives? What if someone didn’t secretly like me or was not happy with me? And moreover it was going to be discussed in public. What if I got a bad review?
Although not very psyched about it, my mind nevertheless did dwell on these apprehensions. The reason for not being psyched was not that I still had a window open in my mind to criticism but because somewhere after all these years I figured that these feedbacks are usually to understand yourself better, build on your strength and not so much for criticism. Phew! But, what if…..? The what ifs still didn’t rest. I was trying to recollect all incidents where I might have had disagreements with any of them, I was trying to re-play appraisal time when a team member might not have been very happy and so on. In a way, I was trying to find assurances or defend my thoughts against getting a negative feedback. What was I scared of? Was it rejection, failure? I have never believed that I was faultless and always claimed to be open to criticism, yet everytime when the occasion came for receiving a feedback, I had apprehensions somewhere within. Was I being a hypocrite then? I was confused.
Vulnerability: painful yet beautiful
Then, while dwelling amongst all the whys and what ifs, I came across an article by Jeroninio Almeida in Business World magazine titled India needs Humane leaders in All Sectors. The article talked about vulnerability as a positive point in leaders. “Vulnerability is power because it helps us to keep an open mind to other people’s views and ideas and also helps us to create a culture of feedback where anyone can tell you that you are taking some wrong steps. This can save us from ruin and help us improve ourselves”, says Jerry, author of bestseller Karma Kurry, for the mind, body, heart and soul. At first I didn’t quite understand the statement. I always thought vulnerability was a strength and not weakness, because it took courage. But despite believing in the strength of vulnerability, I was uncomfortable everytime I became vulnerable. Why?
I read the lines from the article again and again and then realized that I had set out on a path very different from my aspirations. I realized that all along I had been asking the wrong question, what if they gave me a negative feedback? The question was –why was I thinking of feedback as negative? Feedback is meant to help us, strengthen our strengths and realize our weaknesses so that we can do a course correction. I realized, that it was not feedback that was negative, rather it was me and my thoughts which were negative. My bubble burst. I realized that I was not as open-minded as I thought myself to be. I realized that I was not as open to feedback as I thought I was. I realized that I was not as secured as I thought I was. Like many, I too was scared of rejection, of failure, of pain. I too was sacred of vulnerability.
Vulnerability! As per Wikipedia, vulnerability refers to the inability of a system or unit to withstand the effects of a hostile environment. In other words, it refers to a weakspot, when our defences are low or are lacking. Our natural instincts try to protect us from vulnerability, because of which we try not to put ourselves out there. We try to shield ourselves behind different hypothetical armours, trying to protect ourselves from pain and worse, from truth. We try not to be in the so called discomfort zones that have to deal with rejection, failure and pain. More importantly, we try to keep ourselves away from situations where our egos may be hurt. We avoid having to deal with realizations that bring us down from the imaginary pedestal we have unknowingly put ourselves on to.
So what is new? Nothing. Vulnerability and people’s hesitancy toward it is not new. But to me, today it has become a conflict of what I am, what I thought I was and what I would like to be. I always thought vulnerability to be a strength and not weakness. I always thought and argued that it took courage to actually put yourself out there. Yet when the time came, I was hesitant. I believed that there was no shame in being vulnerable, infact it was something to be proud of, because it took courage. If someone cheats you it is their problem and not the person who has been cheated, because he has followed the path of trust. But were these thoughts reality for me? No. Somewhere deep within I lacked that strength. Somewhere I too had closed my mind in fear of being hurt and rejected. Somewhere deep within I too was trying not to be vulnerable.
The flower of vulnerability
My next question then was, is vulnerability necessary? In the process of protecting ourselves, what are we losing out on? Are we losing out on the love of our lives because we could not go out there and profess our love? Are we losing out on reaching out to people, or losing out by failing to make a connection with others who could be a lifelong friend, colleague, collaborator? Are we unintentionally closing doors to our own success, both in our personal and professional lives? Are we losing out on the opportunity to become a better and more respectable person?
Vulnerability is at the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences – Dr. Brené Brown
It takes courage to be the first to tell someone you love them, it takes courage to wait for a doctor’s medical report, it takes courage to be the first to tread along an unknown path, it takes courage to try something new, it takes courage to receive criticism, it takes courage to receive feedback with a smile and I hope I can open up my mind to receiving it from now on. I hope I can become wholehearted as mentioned by Brené Brown in her Ted talk The power of vulnerability. I hope I can become vulnerable. Yes, today I hope I can become vulnerable, so that through the path of shame, fear and my struggle for worthiness, I can reach the core filled with joy, belonging, creativity and love.