Everyone has bad days. After a bad morning, it’s hard to place on a mask and step into the workplace with a packaged and prepared “I’m doing great” waiting for every polite inquiry. But our society (and our personal expectations) makes it difficult to explain how we really feel.
On one hand, we all yearn for the ability to be real in the workplace. We all want to say, “Bad days exist, and that’s OK.” On the other, we want to be successful, and we’ve all heard the whisper that success equals perfection. The world’s a competitive place. The only way to win is to be perfect. Right?
Actually, as professionals and creatives, perfectionism might be our worst enemy. Dr. Brene Brown, author of the best-selling book Daring Greatly, states, “Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact… perfection hampers improvement. Perfection is a self-destructive and addictive belief system” (130–131). So how do we find that mythical balance of professionalism and authenticity, criticism and creativity, tact and truth?
The answer lies with vulnerability.
Why vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness
If you thought, “But vulnerability means weakness,” then you’re not alone. We did, too. In fact, most of Dr. Brene Brown’s readers initially thought so. However, Dr. Brown isn’t an inspirational speaker — she’s a researcher and social worker, with extensive research to support her claims.
Vulnerability, according to Dr. Brown, means uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. That’s a rather uncomfortable description, to be honest. It checks off three words that make even the hardiest of us pull back.
Being vulnerable means being open. About who we are. About how we feel. About making mistakes. It means embracing humility and admitting we’re not perfect. Because perfect people can’t grow.
Ask yourself what’s harder. Is it slipping on the mask or being honest about how you feel? Most people would say that being honest is more difficult. It’s hard to take the step into honesty and face potential rejection. But people who embrace vulnerability acknowledge that they’re afraid, then face those fears anyway.
And that takes strength.
Vulnerability creates growth
Being vulnerable in the professional world means being transparent — it doesn’t mean forgetting tact. It definitely doesn’t mean spilling out all your thoughts and feelings with abandon. It’s good to have a safe (non-work) friend who you can share the deep frustrations and moments of anger with.
But at work, being vulnerable means we’re willing to present a radical new idea during a meeting. We’re willing to ask for a private meeting with the boss, to share concerns about a client. We’re willing to take a creative risk, even with the possibility of failure.
Because more than perfection, we want to keep growing.
Vulnerability accepts our humanness
Whether at home or in the office, being vulnerable is uncomfortable. Even though we want to grow, It’s easier to pull on a suit of strength and perfection, seal up the cracks with polite small talk, and do our job with our mask firmly in place. The armor is our way of creating a safe distance between ourselves and others, so they can’t see that we’re actually human beings (just like them), who make mistakes, tangle with fears, and have bad days. We’re ashamed of our humanness.
This distance means we put a lot of energy into being right and appearing perfect — and we struggle with the ability to create real connections with our team members and clients. We fail to realize that it’s OK to be uncomfortable. Discomfort is a natural part of growth. (Think about your business in the middle of transition moments. It’s usually messy, right?) But that messy growing process is necessary to keep moving forward.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” Dr. Brown’s quote opens up a whole new way to look at growth. To have innovation, we must first embrace the idea that a product or service could be improved. To have creativity, we must be willing to try ten times to get one success. And to have change, we must accept that we’re not always right.
5 ways to implement vulnerability in the workplace
Here at Maestro, living vulnerably is one of our goals. We’re a creative agency, and we don’t want to simply exist from day to day — we want to grow, create, and thrive. This means looking taking the concept of vulnerability and turning it into actionable goals.
1. Understand and accept your own feelings (Be real / authenticity / wonder more)
Finding understanding means being true to ourselves and each other. Sometimes, this means having hard conversations or admitting to personal weakness (a humbling moment). But the path to growth means accepting these emotions and turning them into chances to overcome.
2. Shift perspective
This doesn’t only mean taking a fresh perspective on clients and coworkers, but also on ourselves. When we flop a presentation, lose a client, or run overdue on a project, we’re need to change the debilitating thought, I’m a screw-up, to a powerful form of acceptance: I’ve screwed up, and that’s OK. Here’s how I can grow.
3. Take ownership of mistakes and imperfections (ownership)
This means that when we mess up, we admit it. Mistakes and imperfections are not bad, even if they may feel like that in the moment. They are markers that show us where we can grow, both as individuals and as teams.
4. Have those tough conversations (kindness)
It’s important to be clear about what needs to happen — even if it’s hard. Clarity is kindness. So, we need to be willing to have clear, straightforward, and gentle conversations, no matter the circumstances.
5. Be willing to be uncomfortable (perseverance)
Discomfort is never a reason to give up. In fact, it’s a sign of growth and possibility. When we’re uncomfortable, it means we’re getting stretched. Think about exercising. There’s always a point where we think we can’t continue, but once we push through, we find our second wind. Dr. Brown adds, “Feedback thrives in cultures where the goal is not ‘getting comfortable with hard conversations’ but normalizing discomfort” (Daring Greatly, 198).
Vulnerability is the key to personal and professional growth
Being vulnerable means stepping out into the unknown. It means accepting mistakes as growth opportunities and clearly articulating our expectations, both of ourselves and others. If you want to encourage team building, fresh creativity, and new possibilities in your business, getting vulnerable with your team might be a good way to start.
Dr. Brown says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” So dare greatly. Live bravely. Work creatively. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean pursuing a professional career in perfectionism, but rather living in pursuit of growth.