Last week, I gave a series of daylong seminars in four cities. The daily topic was time management, with attention to related topics like personal organization and stress reduction. Stress was the last topic each day. What I love about this kind of teaching is that I always learn something. Last week I learned (once again!) the value of speaking with vulnerability.
In case you wonder what I mean by that, I refer you to a previous post on the topic. The ability to be vulnerable with others is something that Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors, has written about. In her book, Daring Greatly, she says, “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.” If vulnerability is also, as she says elsewhere, “the birthplace of connection,” then clearly it is something every speaker needs to be aware of.
Here’s how my awareness was raised last week. After a couple of days of teaching what the prepared workbook said about stress, I decided to deviate from the script. Instead of reading the statistics on the effects of stress, I said something like this:
“My father died of cardiovascular disease at the age of 59. He’d had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery at age 45. Up to that time, he had a type-A personality and did not know how to handle stress well.
“Fortunately for me, I did not inherit his tendency toward high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and bad cholesterol. Unfortunately, I did inherit another of his health risks, a tendency toward depression.
“In 2001, following that very stressful project I told you about earlier, I was diagnosed with major depression. Although it was my first diagnosis, in retrospect it was almost certainly not my first episode. What followed was an extremely difficult period for myself and my family as I clawed my way back to where I could function again.
“Today, I am pleased to say I stand before you free of most of the symptoms of depression. It’s still something I have to watch out for, because I know the tendency is still there. The point is, stress can take its toll on you physically, psychologically, and emotionally. How do you respond to stress? And what do you do to deal with it?”
The discussions that followed were heartfelt and authentic. Afterward, one participant came up and thanked me for sharing my vulnerability. Yes, she actually used that word. (I didn’t ask her if she was a fan of Brené Brown.)
A cynic might think that having read Brown’s book, I simply “employed” vulnerability as a tool to get better evaluation scores from my audience. The fact is, I allowed myself to be vulnerable in that moment for three reasons. First, because I could: by that time, I’d spent nearly six hours with that audience and felt I had earned their trust. Second, because it fit the topic and provided better support for it than the alternative material. And third, because I knew that a degree of vulnerability at this point would leave them thinking and feeling something about the topic that they wouldn’t have otherwise. My vulnerability arose from an authentic desire to help my audience. Based on the feedback I received, I am convinced I did just that.
How are you willing to be vulnerable? And how, by doing so, can you help someone else on their journey to wholeness? I hope you will share a comment below.
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