The Courage to Be Yourself

In the last blog, we covered methods to resolve conflict. One of them was vulnerability… revealing more of who you are and how you feel so others may understand you and your point of view.

Let’s examine vulnerability more closely.  University of Houston professor Brené Brown, a leading expert in the power of emotional vulnerability, became a hit when her Ted talk on vulnerability went viral with more than ten million views. Brown has made a career of studying fear and shame.  Her seemingly simple message? Have the courage to be yourself. You might be asking why being yourself would take courage. After all, shouldn’t being true to who you really are be the most natural way to live?

As you will see in her Ted talk (and in The Guardian’s “Brené Brown: ‘People are sick of being afraid all the time”) Brown argues that we live in a shaming culture that looks for reasons to criticize. For this reason, being yourself can be daunting.

We see incredibly attractive celebrities in magazines and on websites having their appearances picked apart. When these celebrities appear on magazine covers the pictures they are often heavily airbrushed, suggesting that even these beautiful people need more than talented hair and makeup artists to be presentable to the world.

While celebrities are under heavy scrutiny, “regular” people also face pressures to be “perfect”. “You only get one chance to make a first impression” is true and helpful advice, but think about the pressure inherent in the statement. It means that every time you meet someone new, you are making a first impression!

Some people handle this pressure better than others. You probably know someone who exaggerates or invents stories to seem more interesting; or exhibits nervous tics, as Ross does when he begins his career as a college professor in the following clip from Friends: 


While this is clearly a humorous example, it reflects reality. Ross puts on an act to get people to like him.  He is afraid of making a bad impression. When he talks to his friends about what he did, they advise him to phase out the accent, and this is the result:


There is a problem with pretending to be someone you’re not.  Eventually, the truth comes out. Ross could not continue to speak in a British accent forever. Because of his deception, his students, no longer interested in the material he wants to teach, focus on his strange behavior.

Being yourself may seem difficult at times, but trying to be someone else is never a viable alternative. How can you have true connection with others under false pretenses?  Connection makes communication powerful.  It is the foundation of significant relationships.

To get closer to who you really are, do an honest self-assessment that focuses on your best qualities. And don’t forget to revisit what you believe to be your “flaws”. Some of them can actually be transformed to become your greatest assets.  Haven’t you learned significant lessons from mistakes you made in the past?

Showing vulnerability is often an inspiration to others. Revealing your struggles, and how you overcame (or are overcoming) them may give hope to others dealing with similar issues.  Alternately, if you reveal that you need help, you never know who might come to your aid!

Speaking that Connects