How would the world be different if we viewed vulnerability as a power pose as opposed to a liability or weakness?
Better yet, what if there were a third option, not powerfully vulnerable, or woefully weak, but …. antifragile?
Let me explain myself.
It’s common to hear about vulnerability in terms of risky behavior that puts one at the mercy of another’s perception. In a relationships, a partner may struggle to be open up and be vulnerable. In business, there’s no room for vulnerability because it’s not a power play in most industries. The choice to be vulnerable is almost always seen as negative or as a tradeoff, where you lose the upperhand after bearing your deepest thoughts and emotions.
If you’ve ever been vulnerable, then you intuitively know this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In thinking about an experience where you chose to show vulnerability, wasn’t that the bravest option on the table? It takes guts and strength to speak up and out about how you feel. Overcoming the knot in your stomach or enduring the possible consequences is courage at its finest. At it’s core, vulnerability and weakness “feel” different, with outcomes to match.
Linguistically, vulnerability is also different from being weak or fragile. To be weak means to be unable to shield oneself from a harm or threat; liable to break or give way under pressure; fragile. On the other hand, being vulnerable simply means susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm; capable of being wounded. You could actually argue, as Brene Brown does in her book Daring Greatly, that weakness “stems from a lack of vulnerability-when we don't acknowledge how and where we're tender, we're more at risk of being hurt." To be vulnerable is simply to say, “yes I'm human, and I have weaknesses, and I'm capable of being hurt.”
However, vulnerability is by no means the opposite of fragility. Most people think its opposite is resiliency: returning to the original form or position after being bent, compressed,or stretched. Fragility’s true opposite, antifragility, takes vulnerability and resiliency up a notch.
To be antifragile is to take a weakness or harm, and use it in a way to make one stronger.The man who came up with the concept, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, sums it up in the title of his anthem work on the subject: "Anti-fragility: Things That Gain From Disorder.” A quote from his Prologue demonstrates the concept: “Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire.”
A candle which flickers and goes out after a gust of wind is weak or fragile, incapable of withstanding the gust of wind. You might even say that a candle which flickers first is resilient; it may bend under pressure but is able to come back strong to its original form...yet nothing more. A wildfire on the other hand is antifragile. The same gust of wind that snuffed the candle out, energizes the wildfire, which grows stronger in response.
Doubling down on our vulnerability invites experience and opportunity, as well as growth and strength. We’d be free to express ourselves fully and embrace the uncertainty that inevitably comes with risk….and living life. I think we’d see better leaders, more engaged employees, and more innovation. Most importantly, I believe the capacity for human connection would deepen -- antifragility inspires and begets more antifragility.
Like the wildfire, you too can practice antifragility:
- embrace uncertainty and risk as a part of life. Nothing is guaranteed and you can’t possibly know the future. recognize how much 1) keeping what’s inside of you repressed (vs actually letting it out) or 2) being someone you are not actually costs you -- in dollars, opportunities, sanity, dignity etc.
- flip your perspective on vulnerability and setbacks: if you see vulnerability as a courageous act and your past “setbacks” as events which put you in the position you are today, you’ve won half the battle.
- keep your eyes on the prize. If external validation is your marker of success, you’re giving away your freedom to create and sustain happiness. Cultivating your own sense of self-esteem and self-respect will prevent you from seeking it from others.