More people are starting to recognize that vulnerability is a good thing.
But I often see a misunderstanding of what vulnerability means.
There’s a faux-vulnerability that’s overwhelmingly more common among men than women. It’s widespread in the sports industry.
It ties in with a kind of glorification about doing the work where you are. In an industry that makes substantial use of low-paid or even unpaid labor in the form of young men desperate for any opportunity to work for a sports team, this rhetoric is everywhere.
When I used to attend sports business or sports management conferences, I heard these things a lot:
You have to do a good job in the job you have before you can get the job you want.
Dig in to all the hard, miserable work.
Get coffee for your boss.
Sweep the floor.
Mop the floor!
Get your supervisor’s car detailed.
Walk their dog.
That’s what I did, and look where I am today!
Make no mistake: doing the work matters. You do need to follow through on taking action.
Here’s the thing though…
When people share that wisdom and tell those stories, they think they are opening up and being vulnerable. See, I wasn’t always the successful executive I am today! Back then, I couldn’t dream of wearing $20,000 suits like this one!
I’ve heard some of them brag about how this “vulnerability” made their speech better.
But that’s not how vulnerability works.
Talking about how you worked hard isn’t making yourself vulnerable.
It’s just running off a list of things that happened, talking about the job you did.
That’s not vulnerability.
Being vulnerable is talking about how you felt about something, even — and especially! — when those feelings at the time weren’t warm and sunny.
If you shared a story about how you got coffee for your boss, and tripped and spilled it on yourself in front of the whole office, and your coworkers referred to you as The Human Coffee Stain for the next six months, leading you to dread coming in to work everyday, even breaking down in the bathroom on multiple occasions, that would be being vulnerable.
Saying you worked hard? Not vulnerability. It’s basically just a humble-brag.
True vulnerability brings people together. Telling people they should work as hard as you did but not have any emotions about it? That does the opposite.
Brené Brown offers a good model for genuine vulnerability in her work, especially in her book Daring Greatly.