You may be wondering why I was going to hear someone talk about shame and vulnerability….I heard about Brené from a friend, her name popped up again when I heard something about Oprah loving her or something, and then I saw the Center for Spirituality and Healing was bringing her in to speak at the University of Minnesota. I don’t know about you, but when something keeps popping up repeatedly in a short period of time, I pay attention. I decided to go hear her speak.
I went out to lunch beforehand with my sister-in-law, who also happened to be going, and shared with her that I had skimmed through Brené's book called “I Thought It Was Just Me” because I was interested in her theory about how much shame we all operate under. My first comment to my sister-in-law was “I read through the book and realized I have no shame.” And we both laughed out loud.
Although I didn’t laugh when Brené said in her talk “the only people that have no shame are sociopaths”.
You're dying to be my friend right now, aren't you?
Now on to the vulnerability piece: according to Brené “its the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. “
What I really meant by the comment of having no shame was that I was not raised using shame as a punishment or parenting style, and I’m not Catholic (I'm told by my Catholic friends that guilt and shame are learned at a very early age). I’m also pretty up front and honest with people – what you see is what you get. I hope you like what you see, but I can’t help it if you don’t….I’m not everyone’s flavor….and I can’t change who I am to try and please others. In a word, I think I make myself pretty vulnerable.
Or so I thought.
Vulnerability can be a pretty scary thing, so we often hide behind perfectionism, we may “put on the mask”, act like everything’s great, or give off the vibe that we’ve got it all together. I started to wonder about the image I’ve created over the years. It’s sort of a weird thing when you’re your own brand and you’re selling yourself. You’ve got to be strategic about what you’re selling, come across as professional, and be an expert. I started to question whether I was perpetuating the phenomenon of perfectionism – especially among women – as the person who’s got it all together. I speak on stress and resiliency, but am I communicating a message of perfectionism that creates and adds more stress? As someone who loves speaking to women on leadership, what's the subtle message I'm communicating beyond the words I speak? Is it healthy?
The answer was made very clear to me last night.
My ex-husband was over and we were talking with our 12 year old daughter about some things – school, communication between households, and body image. While we were talking about creating a healthy body image I shared with her that I struggled with food and body image while in high school and college. She turned to me with a completely stunned look on her face and said “WHAT?! You?! Miss exercise physiology and nutrition? I thought you were perfect!” And she wasn’t being sarcastic. She really meant it.
That hurt. I’ve been careful to talk about what it means to be healthy, how it’s important to eat good food, but to also enjoy treats, to exercise regularly, and have strived to be a good role model to her. I feel like I share at home when I’m struggling with something and talk quite openly about my feelings. Clearly, the story she’s hearing is different from the one I’m trying to tell.
I can't control everyone's perceptions, but I think I could add a bit more “human” to the mix. I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of the “woman who has it all”. Because it’s just that: a myth. It’s not what I want other people to think and I most certainly don’t want it to be what my daughter thinks.
The balance between leadership, performance & vulnerability can be tenuous. What's your experience?