Being vulnerable

Last weekend along with a few other beginners I allowed myself to be vulnerable.

I competed in another sheep dog trial.  This involved looking pretty incompetent, feeling foolish and even having to shout a few times – something I really don’t like to do, or be heard doing.

I am in the bottom class. I have been there for the past three years with little sign of improving to go into the class above. This is not helped by my sporadic efforts at training and trialling my kelpie dogs. In a way I have got used to being vulnerable in this context but it is still uncomfortable.

Why put yourself in a situation where others can see your vulnerability?

At a time when so many people want to have genuine and authentic relationships being vulnerable may help us find the more real connections we crave.  Being vulnerable involves exposing ourselves so that others can see our imperfections, our lack of knowledge, skills or finesse. It involves presenting the less polished version of you, the not so perfect but real person.  In allowing others to experience us as vulnerable, incomplete and sometimes struggling, they see us as more human.

To participate in sheep dog trialling, you have to direct a dog to herd sheep around a course in a set period of time negotiating a series of obstacles. A judge observes and deducts points for each mistake made by the dog, or the handler.  It is challenging and things usually go wrong. One of my dogs is hard to control (hence the shouting at times). She alarms the sheep with her power and presence and they get  flighty contributing more drama to a volatile dynamic.  Add to the mix the spectators who you know will have a range of comments about what you did (and didn’t do) once you come off the course. To keep competing I have to remind myself of what I have managed to achieve to be able to enter.  It also helps to come back to what I have learnt about the importance of vulnerability and what we know about its benefits.

Brene Brown on vulnerability

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She shot to prominence in 2010 with her TED talk on the topic of vulnerability.  In that talk she explained how many of us actually have a sense of shame because we don’t feel worthy. We are bombarded daily with messages from advertising (as well as other places) that to be liked and loved we need to be smart, fit, slim, educated, rich, successful etc. Whilst we consciously know this is ludicrous, at some deeper level we take it on board. It comes with a cost. It is a burden we carry as we get wound up in a stupid game of trying to reach a level of perfection that is simply unattainable.

This is what Brown had to say in an interview for the UK Telegraph in 2012:

‘I think vulnerability and shame are deeply human emotions but the expectations that drive shame are organised by gender. For women it’s “Do it all, do it perfectly and never look as if you’re working very hard” – which is a disastrous set-up. And for men it’s “Don’t be perceived as weak”.

Can we share too much of our vulnerability?

Allowing ourselves to vulnerable doesn’t mean we need to be sharing all and everything about ourselves. Doing that would be overkill. It is likely to diminish connection with others. Vulnerability is however, letting go of our need to always feel in control, to allow our less than perfect self to be seen. It involves opening ourselves up to challenges that scare us but at the same time allow us to grow as we push our boundaries.

I intend to keep trying with the sheep dog trialling. I can see I’ve made progress from where I started as a complete beginner.  I’m proud to say I have trained the dogs myself (with help from some great mentors) but some days it feels like I’m going backwards and that is really uncomfortable!



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Maryanne Martin