The Strength In VulnerabilityMay 03, 2022
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
When I initially signed up for physician coaching, I was struggling at work. I was experiencing conflicts that led me to show up in ways I didn’t like. I was searching for a solution, a change, or something new. During a group coaching call, I raised my hand and laid bare the issues I was experiencing. I received excellent coaching on the topic and completed the call with a plan for moving forward at work. As I left the meeting, however, I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. Much worse. And it had nothing to do with my work situation.
I didn’t have a word for it at the time, but I was experiencing what Brené Brown calls a vulnerability hangover. I had just revealed more about my inner thoughts to a group of relative strangers than I had to some of my closest friends. What made it harder was that I couldn’t see them, ask them their opinions, or study their faces for signs of judgment. It felt horrible, and I couldn’t sleep that night. I awoke to words of encouragement from my coach the following morning and immediately felt a sense of relief. Maybe the call had gone better than I remembered. I should probably still watch the replay to be sure, right?
Vulnerability is hard. That was (and sometimes still is) my thought. But why? Why do we struggle with vulnerability?
When I ask that question, I am immediately transported to high school. Then, I cringe. I was the typical pre-med, motivated, high-achiever. I joined all of the clubs and stayed busy with extracurricular activities. One afternoon during my senior year of high school, I was walking down the hallway at the end of the school day. I had a backpack full of books and was carrying my trumpet case. One moment I was walking; the next moment, I was flat on the floor, having been tackled from behind by one of our football players. Someone had paid him $1 to do it. He apologized but acknowledged that it had been worth the $1 paid in full. I picked myself up, collected my belongings, and headed to my car.
Do you feel bad when you hear that story? Do you have a more horrifying account of torture or abuse at the hand of a bully? Regardless of the details, the effects are likely the same. We lock ourselves down and close ourselves off. If I never let you know or see me, you can’t hurt me. If I can go unnoticed, I will be OK. If I can just not take up space, I will survive. Your brain only has patterns from the past to predict the future. If you can avoid vulnerability, you can avoid becoming the prey of an insufferable bully.
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says: “Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.” In hiding, we don’t allow ourselves to live up to our full potential. When we remain small, we can’t achieve our wildest dreams. When we deny our most authentic selves, we prevent the world from experiencing our greatest gift: Being ourselves.
As I remained in my group coaching program, I only allowed myself to be coached a couple of times. I reserved most of my coaching for my 1:1 sessions. When I enrolled in coach certification, the hiding was over. Everyone coached and received coaching “Brady Bunch-style.” As I progressed through the 6-month training, a perceptible shift happened. I could feel myself leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability more and more. As I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I developed closer relationships with my classmates and felt increasingly supported. As I experienced more significant levels of support, my capacity for vulnerability also increased.
As I relearned to lean into vulnerability, I started meeting incredible people doing incredible things. Relative strangers became fast friends. With support and encouragement, we joined each other on a crazy journey to help change the culture of medicine. You might suppose that putting yourself out there gets easier as you do it more, but it doesn’t. You rise to the highest level of your comfort. Then, vulnerability strikes again. There will always be someone who questions you, your authenticity, and your motives. An internet troll will call you a “quack” for addressing how shame is used to manipulate physicians to keep their heads down and ignore systemic flaws in our healthcare system. The irony will hit you like a ton of bricks. And simultaneously, you will be transported to that time when a football player more than twice your size tackled you from behind. And at that moment, you get to remind yourself that your work is more important than the people trying to hold you back. You get to remind yourself that your vulnerability has the power to show other physicians that there is a better way and that suffering is not required to continue a career in medicine. Then you get to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and transcend to the next level of vulnerability because that is where change happens.
Vulnerability is hard. That is my thought. Coaching has taught me to recognize my thought. Coaching has also taught me that I don’t need to change my thought. I can continue thinking that allowing others to see my most authentic and truest version is difficult. But coaching has also taught me that I can do hard things, including feeling the discomfort of vulnerability.
I have come a long way from that first group coaching call. Physician coaching shined a spotlight on my lifelong struggle with vulnerability. As I navigated my way through the winding paths, I found something unexpected. I started developing deeper relationships, making new friends, and increasingly began to accept myself, including all of my many flaws. Each time I lean into the discomfort of vulnerability, I grow a little more into the person I want to be. And I take up a little more space in a world where I previously tried to keep myself small. The more space I allow myself to occupy, the less room there is for the bullies, the naysayers, and the doubters. Why was I even making room for those people in the first place? When the hallway is filled with “your people,” it will be much harder to get unexpectedly tackled. But even if you get tackled, at least you know you are surrounded by people who will lend a helping hand as you pick yourself up and continue on your journey to a bigger and brighter future.
Are you interested in creating more balance in your life? I want to invite you to check out my FREE TRAINING. Click here to get: How Busy Physicians Can Stop Trying To Escape Medicine And Start Living Their Best Life Today.
This training will teach you the five essential techniques physicians need to stop feeling stuck, burned out, and trapped in medicine. You will also learn how to stop racing toward retirement and start using tools that empower you to practice medicine your way.
PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do, too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Chumbawamba - Tubthumping
If you want to read the lyrics, click here.
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