What I Learned About Being Vulnerable

This year I once again attended Mom 2.0 Summit, a conference I’ve been attending nearly annually for the ten years of its existence. The Summit is a place where friends, fun, work, and learning intersect in the best way. Normally, I learn business strategies and inspiration. But this year what I learned was personal. I was thrown a loop by being nominated for a couple of Iris Awards.  I am not very good at celebrating myself, accepting earnest compliments with grace, and owning my success. My vulnerability had been exposed to the world.

According to Mom 2.0, the Iris Awards are “an annual recognition of individual achievements, collective creativity, and impactful work that comes from our community.” Iris is like our industry’s Oscars and like the Oscars, there are multiple categories with multiple nominees. This year there were 92 nominations of in 15 categories. I was nominated for Most Engaging Content and Philanthropic Work of the Year along with 5 others in each category.

As a mom who projects confidence through my work, champions raising confident kids, and encourages embracing failure as fuel to build confidence, my personal confidence waned upon seeing my name on the list of nominees. I joked with friends about being the Susan Lucci of the Philanthropy category, having also been nominated the year before. At the conference, my confidence wavered again. While it is truly an honor to be nominated, I heard myself telling others this to save face if my name wasn’t called once again.

Instead of owning the honor of being nominated, I was protecting myself through my words. I was preparing myself for my name to not be read, just like the year before. My brain was doing exactly what Brené Brown described in her keynote mere hours before the Iris Awards when she told us:

“Our brain is wired for survival. When something hard happens, our brain craves a story. It needs to know how to protect us.”

I was creating a story to protect myself because the Iris Awards exposed my vulnerability.

Brené Brown at Mom 2.0 Summit. Photo courtesy of Joël Lëoj

Brené says vulnerability is showing up and being seen when you can’t control the outcome. Showing up to an awards ceremony where you have a 1 in 6 chance of your name being called feels like vulnerability at its finest, but according to Brené, vulnerability is not weakness. We associate vulnerability with fear, shame, and uncertainty but she proclaims it’s really the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, and play.

Sitting in my seat and watching the faces of my fellow Iris Awards nominees flash on the screen, was the hard part. I showed up, knowing that there was a 16% chance of my name being called. I felt uncertainty as the nervousness and nausea began to take over. I could only feel the negative emotions associated with vulnerability that were impossible to ignore. Click to play the video below and you’ll skip ahead to my category, Philanthropic Work of the Year.

But in that moment when my name was called and the people around me erupted in pure joy, what Brené said started to make sense. The love and belonging that I felt from the room carried me from my seat, over the one my dear friend, Danica, toppled in her excitement, past congratulatory friends, and to the stage for another vulnerable moment.

Photo courtesy of Orly C. View her complete video from Mom 2.0 on her YouTube channel

But this vulnerability was different. As I stood on the stage, trying to find the words to give a speech, I could feel the love, belonging, and joy that Brené spoke of.

It came from friends in the room who have been following my work in Haiti for years, the community around me, those who were up late watching the livestream in their homes across the country, and friends who woke hearing news the next day.

As I work on accepting vulnerability as a positive, rather than a negative, I’m also working on celebrating myself, accepting earnest compliments with grace, and owning my success.

Then again, Brené also says, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are: it requires you to be who you are” so I suppose I’ll do OK either way.