What makes you vulnerable also makes you beautiful, says Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston who touches on some key issues related to her work on vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame in a recent presentation at TEDxHouston. I'm always looking for good examples of regular people who do a good job of presenting naked. This talk is remarkable because it's a good example of both an authentic, natural presentation, and the content of the presentation itself speaks to the need for a naked approach to communicating and to living in general. I love this talk by Brene Brown and I highly recommend it. You will be able to apply lessons and observations from her talk not only to communicating and presenting but to many other aspects of your personal and professional life. I have not read her latest book yet — The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are — but based on her talk I certainly will be reading it soon. I love the themes and ideas put forth by Professor Brown in her TEDx talk as they very much overlap with the key themes of connection, engagement, authenticity, and passion that I touched on in the Naked book. Watch the talk below or here on TED. Below the video I touch on some of Brown's themes as they relate to presentation.
Where there is no connection, there is no meaning
We are hardwired for connection, says Brown. Yet all too often, connection — in relationships, in classrooms, etc. — is missing. Why? Fear is a big reason why we fail at making connections. We fear many things, but mostly we fear that if we put our true self "out there" for all to see we will expose our self-doubt and our private worries about whether or not we are really "good enough" or worthy of the connection. What we may fear most of all is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, but without vulnerability there can be no true human-to-human connection. Vulnerability is risky by definition, and most of us have been educated to minimize risk wherever possible. Yet, you can not have true connection without allowing yourself to be vulnerable. This is true for virtually any kind of relationship: teacher-student, master-apprentice, coach-player, boss-subordinate, presenter-audience, and on and on. It applies obviously to more intimate relationships among friends, and other loved ones as well. Where you hesitate and hold back, no connection can be created, and in a deeper sense, this hesitation to allow ourselves to be vulnerable is a source of much dissatisfaction and disharmony in our lives.
The courage to be imperfect
In the presentation above, Brown touches on what she calls "wholehearted people," people who feel worthy of love and belonging. Those who avoid vulnerability at all cost may do so because, at least at some level, they feel unworthy. Some of the things that "wholehearted" people have in common, Brown says, is (1) the courage to be imperfect, (2) the compassion to be kind to themselves, and (3) the ability to let go of the idea of who they are "suppose to be." We are by our very nature imperfect, but that imperfection is what makes us human. The ability to allow ourselves to be imperfect and vulnerable in our personal and professional relationships is the very thing that can open our world up to the possibility of deeper connections and more meaningful engagement with others. ("Worthiness" slide is from Dr. Brown's presentation.)
Passionate, naked, and vulnerable
While researching "naked communication" several months ago I stumbled on this wonderful quote by American poet and author Nikki Giovanni (which also appears in the slide below) : "A lot of people refuse to do things because they don't want to go naked, don't want to go without [a] guarantee. But that's what's got to happen. You go naked until you die."
I love the spirit of this. We should indeed go naked until we die. There are no guarantees in life except change. But will we jump on and embrace change and see where our passion will take us, or will we cling cautiously to the past and to that which is known and safe? Passion dies in an environment of fear and a yearning for guarantees and certainty. This quote below by Steve Jobs touches on a similar theme.
"Follow your heart" sounds trite and cliche perhaps — but following your heart is exactly what you've got to do — this is where connection and meaning live. Ask yourself what you would do if you removed the fear — what direction would you go? What if you could magically remove the doubt — which road would you choose? Identify your passion and follow that. How do you want to change the world? What's your contribution? Do that.
Fear is natural, but fear itself is not the problem. It is the attachment to the fear that burdens us. It's OK to be afraid, but move forward and know that you are worthy of meaningful connections. The attachment to the fear and doubt keeps us from making our best contribution, or even from truly loving another or being loved. Sometimes giving and accepting love is the hardest of all because there are never, ever guarantees. But we must go naked, we must take a risk, on and off the stage. The rewards are worth it — for us and for those with whom we connect.