Inadequacy is a common fear among people who want to be leaders or people who want to achieve something great in their lives. We may be bigger and better than we’ve ever been, but that doesn’t mean the larger public will immediately recognize it.
It’s that feeling of putting our all into something and not getting what we expect back. It’s reaching out to someone with compassion and then getting shut down or going unnoticed. These feelings are not fun, but they are feelings that leaders must feel.
Winners do not know if they are equipped for the task, but they take the necessary steps to find out. They aren’t sure if they can make more money or fall in love, but they give their heart to it fully anyway.
And they usually end up finding out that they are more capable than they had thought. Their newfound confidence and the empathy that grows from vulnerability become an inspiration to those around them. Maybe they are happier and more fulfilled than ever before. You can feel joy emanate from them. They are no longer shy or afraid to speak up and listen closely. They have broken out of their shell, shared their ideas, and trusted their creative intuition.
When you find the courage to grow, you are more valued at work and more connected and joyful at home. Vulnerability can paralyze us, but it can also make us stronger. We can no longer allow fear, self-doubt, shyness, nervousness, rejection, and stress to stop us from living our lives fully. We have to open up. We can’t keep closing ourselves off and missing opportunities. We need to embrace the fear and stop trying to play it safe.
If we continue to live this way, we will continue to feel disconnected. We will continue to numb ourselves.
Statistically speaking, America’s population is frighteningly unfulfilled, medicated, obese, and depressed. This is not only a reflection of what’s happening in our personal lives but also of how we feel at work. It comes from our lack of courage to be vulnerable.
It’s ironic that we’ve convinced ourselves that in the workplace we need to do the opposite of heart-centered things like opening up and compassionately connecting with others.
Writer John Steinbeck eloquently says: “It always seemed strange to me that the things we admire in men: kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest: sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self interest are the traits of success.”
Deep within us, we know that it is admirable and important to be open and selfless, but our culture has built its success on egotism and shutting oneself off from others. This lack of vulnerability, of authenticity, of realness and openness in our hearts and emotions, is ruining happiness—not only at work, but also in society at large.
What we need to consider is that fear of being open and vulnerable can paralyze us, and yet facing that fear can make us stronger. We have to break the barrier and open ourselves up to the people and things around us.
We may fail, but if we don’t try, we imprison ourselves. Opening yourself and your heart, even in a world full of constant letdowns and no guarantees, is the way to become your best self. You need to have the courage to be vulnerable.
Sometimes we lock ourselves into situations so tightly that we can hardly even breathe. Sometimes we run imaginary scenarios through our heads about the worst things that can happen if we make certain decisions: This may happen, therefore I cannot do that. There’s no guarantee it will go well, and I don’t want to be rejected, so I’m not going to do it—it’s for my own good. Sound familiar?
Sometimes the thoughts in our heads about what may or may not happen if we do x, y, or z are even more debilitating than the actual experiences. This is because there’s no action or remedy to take that will change them. Our breath gets shorter and our hands get sweatier. If that’s the case, if your mind is blocking you from being vulnerable and being seen, you need to start by being aware that it’s happening: uh-oh, I’m worrying and feeling fearful again because my mind and body can’t tell the difference between an actual event outside and what’s going on inside my head.
Your nervous system thinks you’re being threatened and produces stress hormones to signal danger and call for protection. Then you shut down your heart and courage. There may be times when the thoughts racing in your mind have such a strong gravitational pull that you can’t get yourself out of them right away.
But with practice, the time it takes for you to realize that it’s just your mind—that it’s not reality—will shorten. You will begin to spot these thoughts, fears, and worries and to separate yourself from them.
If you don’t take time to develop awareness about these kinds of thoughts, your nervous system will produce more stress hormones and try to protect you. It will close you off from your immediate environment. The body reacts whether a threat is legitimate or not. It produces the same energy whether a burglar is really in the house or not. It responds to what the mind tells it is true.
When this happens, you simply need to be aware that it’s just your thoughts and fears, and to remember that you can triumph over them with courage. You can even take a conscious, deep breath and step out of your racing mind. Otherwise you will start to believe that the only way to protect yourself is to shut down.
When you allow this to happen, your heart shuts down. On a neurobiological level, you stop fulfilling your need for connection with the people and world around you. Eventually, however, when you step outside of these fearful thoughts and become present once again, it’s like waking up from a nightmare. Your thoughts may try to pull you back in, but the more you become aware of them, the more you can protect yourself.
That’s why it’s so important to have an awareness practice like meditation, yoga, walking, journaling, or some other activity that pulls you back into the present. The more you practice, the less you will find yourself trapped by these negative and fearful thoughts.
Although feelings of vulnerability may seem a prison, they’re actually your greatest stepping-stones to freedom. They empower you to be courageous and to overcome your feelings of unworthiness and fear.
When we realize that courage is not the absence of fear or doubt but the ability to do things regardless of fear or doubt, we generate confident, connected, and passionate energy. We stop yielding to resistance, separation, and fear.