On Being Vulnerable and Spontaneous

What definition do you choose to define vulnerability? I ask because descriptions of this word vary greatly. Wikipedia, for example, leans toward “exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed physically or emotionally.” Translation for the most part is that being vulnerable is a weakness and is something you do not want to be or feel. It’s a bad thing.

The Institute of HeartMath, on the other hand, looks at a “vulnerable heart” as an open heart. Sara Paddison, in her book, The Hidden Power of the Heart, shares that when people have been hurt, they may “shut down their hearts in self-protection and feel detached, even numb.” She goes on to describe that to allow oneself to be vulnerable and use heart intelligence is a courageous act, and in her case, one that enhanced her capacity to speak her truth. Translation here is that being vulnerable with care in your heart is a strength and can be practiced in a way that augments communication and connection with others. It’s a good thing.

Clearly, vulnerability is a double-edged sword—or two sides of the same coin.

If you’ve never (or rarely ever) experienced the “strength” of vulnerability, it might be harder to embrace the positive side of the spectrum. I am asking you to linger with me on this strength side for a while and see if you can find some comfort there.

What if you became a student of vulnerability by taking small risks, keeping your heart open in the face of conflict, or looking closer at the barriers you’ve constructed within? These opportunities could only serve you if you imagine the possibility that vulnerability has wisdom to offer. Reflect for a moment on the various professionals that have touted the benefits of being vulnerable.

“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”
—Haruki Murakami, Japanese Writer

“Make your heart as vast as space, so big that nothing can harm it. When our hearts are that wide, it is as if the judgments are ripples on water, flowing away and leaving no trace. This is what vulnerability makes possible. It allows the natural strength of the heart to emerge.” 
—Mark Coleman, Author

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.
—Brené Brown, Research Professor

“In our culture the idea of being vulnerable is associated with being fearful, anxious, and weak. In contrast, one of the central ideas is that vulnerability is an adaptive and desirable state to live in.”
—Fred Branfman, Author

My own experience with being vulnerable is that it makes me more honest with myself and others. I’ll admit, I get squirmy sometimes when I am feeling wary of how people might respond when I approach with my heart and mind open, like the time I attended a board meeting for the first time.

Initially, I told myself I was going to stay quiet and learn. I was the newbie, after all, and it was only proper that I don’t offer much, if anything for my first time. But one of the long-time board members who had invited me inserted me into a conversation and asked me to share my feedback about how we might improve a specific process. In the 3-second pause that felt like a full minute to me, I could feel my heart beating faster and my mouth went dry. I asked myself how do I convey my feedback without stepping on anyone’s toes? Then I heard a little voice inside me saying, you know how to be clear and gentle and still offer an idea or two that could be helpful. So, I spoke up, perhaps a bit too quietly at first, and stated what I had learned from other experiences and did just fine. I was squirming inside for sure.

And I do know that when I close up, defend, and protect myself with arbitrary armor, interactions get stilted, and there’s a palpable lack of flow. That’s not the kind of interactions I want in the world, nor the person I want to be. So, I practice the art of vulnerability as often as I can—until it becomes my default manner of interacting.

To be clear, there are times for which a stalwart show of strength and fortitude is demanded. The dangers of war, frenzied mob mentality, or brutal physical attacks are surely all situations where you call upon your inner warrior to take the lead. In these situations, your power and control methods of acting and protecting yourself and others are paramount. These situations, for most of us in our day-to-day interactions, are rarely what we face. Vulnerability from a source of strength, not weakness is worth practicing and mastering if we want to contribute to a world of connection, camaraderie, and profoundly creative innovation.

Dr Robert Firestone, Psychologist and author, recommends the following practices to enhance your healthy vulnerability:

  • Be the fool, unafraid and undaunted by what others might think
  • Take a chance on life—every day
  • Invest fully in people – put your trust in people
  • Live the philosophy that “it’s better to love and lose than to never love at all”
  • Realize you are not a child anymore—your defenses are based on a child’s outlook
  • As adults we can handle almost any eventuality in life—open your heart and LIVE

Spontaneity is our ability to act voluntarily or with undetermined action or movement. It is often associated with an absence of planning. Some of the most descriptive synonyms for being spontaneous are to be in ease, lighthearted, natural, and unconstrained. Can you see any commonalities in being spontaneous and being vulnerable? They both imply freedom and the ability to be in the moment.

Even though it’s counter-intuitive, there are some planned steps you can take to loosen up and walk a little lighter, touching on the art of spontaneity. You will naturally ‘hear your internal dialogue’ that may coax you to ‘think twice’ or ‘play it safe’, but the first step is to notice your inner voice, then shift to a more encouraging attitude. Tiny actions will actually help you rewire your brain towards spontaneity. Here are a few to ponder and practice:

  • Bring spontaneity to your speech – raise your hand or speak up at a meeting or gathering when you feel that first tug of an idea that you’d normally let go. Say it anyway.
  • Instead of saying “It’s OK” or “no big deal” when someone has been hurtful, rude, or simply inconsiderate, take a moment to actually tell them how their actions or words impacted you. For example, you could say “Thanks for bringing that up, it felt insensitive to me, so I appreciate you owning that so we can talk it through.”
  • If you miss an opportunity to speak up, and you get clarity in an hour or so, call or send an email to tell your colleague or friend how you feel. Do it with ease so you don’t obsess over saying it just right. Let yourself feel the risk of it and push your comfort zone a bit wider.
  • Expand your confidence by befriending your initial heart response, rather than defaulting back to your cautious rational mind.
  • Remind yourself that you are open to spontaneity—plant the seed and notice where it sprouts in your life.
  • Schedule spontaneity! Yes, I know you’re laughing, but I’m talking about having some room in your schedule to simply do something on the fly. You’re not REALLY scheduling it, you’re just keeping open space in your day-to-day life.
  • Make time for what matters most to you to keep your life fresh and surprising. Make a list of things you totally enjoy, then go for it, one at a time.
  • Get off your “screens” and you’ll be surprised what things can show up when you’re aware of life and people around you.
  • Smile and talk to people you don’t know. It’s amazing how most people respond positively to this, and sometimes a simple smile or kind word can really make someone’s day!
  • Be practical about how spontaneity will look in your life. Challenge your negative thoughts/beliefs about spontaneity. Let your creativity bring you stimulating experiences.

Remember, a vulnerable heart is an open heart, and being spontaneous creates ease and light-heartedness. When we learn and gain proficiency with each of them, we open our lives to being courageous and bearers of truth. When we allow ourselves to be seen and stay in the moment, we nurture connection and freedom to be our very best selves. These are the selves we want to bring to work, to our relationships with loved ones, and most assuredly to ourselves. When we invite more heart, more real, we become our authentic selves, willing to be honestly vulnerable and purposely spontaneous, reverberating coherence and care to our world and its inhabitants.

It is with dedication that I work with high tech professionals whose leaders want teams that trust one another enough to generate healthy conflict. I guide leaders to skillfully give coordination and control to the people who do the work. This brings out the best in each employee, encouraging creativity, competent risk-taking, and innovation. If you or a business leader you know is open to this kind of change, I would deeply appreciate you sending them to AuthentiCore.com to see if we are a good fit to work together.