The importance of being vulnerable at work

Lauren Kallen explains why a willingness to be vulnerable may be more important – in work and in life – than you think

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Career Contessa

When I read about career women I admire, or think about the people I find inspiring, I am struck by their fearlessness. I’m inspired by their ability to find their dream job despite challenges. I’m inspired by the courage they had to take risks, even when the chances of failure were high, or the stakes were against them. I’m inspired by the fact that they dared to be different and decided to carve their own path.

However – more than anything else – I’m inspired by their willingness to be vulnerable. I think that is an incredibly important, but often undervalued or even forgotten, skill in the journey to career success.

Challenges lead to learning

Almost all opportunities – for example, getting a pay rise, deciding to propose an innovative idea, etc. – will challenge us or require us to overcome a learning curve. And while skill, persistence, hard work, and a healthy dose of fearlessness enable us to rise to those challenges, vulnerability is what allows us to meet them in the first place.

More often than not, you must ask for a pay rise and, in doing so, inherently allow for the possibility of rejection. If you speak up to propose a different – but potentially ingenious – idea you inevitability open yourself up to being shot down. You must be vulnerable in order to grow and succeed. Vulnerability opens the door to risky, but invaluable, opportunities.

A willingness to be vulnerable helps us to connect to others

While on my first consulting engagement, for example, two of us were tasked with creating a resource guide for new team members. I remember turning to my colleague and remarking, “Uh, I am not sure how to start.” She laughed and replied, “Me neither!”

That quick exchange instantly showed us both that we were on the same page and paved the way for us to work together; by admitting our vulnerability, we immediately became closer. Besides, how do you connect with someone who seems to know it all? I know that I’ve always had a hard time relating to people like that!

Vulnerability allows us to ask for help when we need it

Similarly, vulnerability invites others to give us the help we need. There have been several occasions where I’ve told my manager, “I don’t quite understand. Can you explain it some more?” In asking for help or clarification, there’s always the possibility that my manager will think I’m incompetent, or question my ability, but I’ve always found asking for help, when appropriate, to be useful. There’s no shame in admitting that you don’t know something; admitting your vulnerability does not mean that you don’t have confidence – in fact, it takes more confidence to reach out for help than it does to pretend you know something.

Undeniably, being vulnerable is not always fun, and it’s certainly not comfortable. It’s extremely hard to open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection, hurt or failure. But being vulnerable is necessary. We must be vulnerable if we want to have the chance of great opportunities. We must be vulnerable if we want to empower our relationships with others. We must be vulnerable if we want more success.

It just takes a little fearlessness.

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