About the value of vulnerability.

It is a challenge for me just to write about it.

It is something so obvious, yet so often ignored, postponed, and explained away. I am talking about expressing what is there, what moves in me at the moment. Not for the sake of sharing, but rather for the sake of my colleagues, my family, or my partner. It is important for them to know, what I think, how I feel, and what I consider doing next. Can you recall a recent moment when you missed expressing your inner reality to someone?

It was the 4th day of a training course, I was managing a team of 3 people, and I had to manage myself as well. The program was going as planned, yet there were some challenges along the way. We knew, that in this phase of the training, all sorts of issues pop on the surface, yet the whole team was somehow affected: two of my colleagues were irritated, quite tired and slowly begun to be desensitized. My partner was confused and struggled to see what is her position in the following days, and what attitude should she implement. I felt that I am getting dragged down by my team’s energy, I have to manage the participants, the logistics, the transport, the risk assessment document for being outdoors, and my equipment, and I get irritated by the fact that nobody sees my struggle and all the weight that I am carrying. It was a situation of which I heard from others, as well, must be well known: we were blessed & lucky to work on this training, but we couldn’t see the benefits of it, because we were gettings slowly dragged down by our own emotions, tiresomeness while being affected by the energy of the participants (it was a specific training type: the participants are first dragged down, in order to realize that they can fly, figuratively speaking).

We had a team meeting, we were assessing the situation, and I asked the one by one team, how is everyone doing. Each and every person said, that they are doing all right, they are just a bit sleepy, they need a bit of coffee or they just need 15 minutes of me-time, and they would be good. Retrospectively now I know, I should have been alerted by the fact that none of them expressed how they are feeling. I, being focused on the tasks of the training, just wanted to continue with the logistics, when one of my colleagues asked me a question from me: “how are you doing?” “Good… good… I am doing fine. So…”, I said, and I wanted to continue. I was scanning my papers for the next topic when I paused for a moment and I looked around. It was a lovely day outside. I heard the birds outside – we were close to nature and we were surrounded by all sorts of singing birds. I took a deep breath. I looked around. I saw my colleagues. I knew, that we still have 6 days to go from the training. Which is an awesome program. With lovely participants. In an amazing surroundings. And despite this it felt that we are bummed “Actually…”, I said, and all eyes were on me.

I took another breath. I explained to them, that I know, that everything goes by the book, but I feel tired. I feel frustrated. I feel sad. I feel a bit alone. I feel impatient. I feel lost a bit in all these logistics. And I took another deep breath. I felt that my colleagues agree with me, at least partially, and they feel the same. And I continued. I feel that this is a lovely program, with great participants. That the weather is helping us. That it’s summer, and we will have fun during our little expedition. That I am blessed to have them as a team. And it is all OK to feel what I feel, until I feel safe to share, how I feel. And, since they created this safe space for me to express my feelings, I am grateful also for this. And if they feel like expressing themselves, they should know, that there is enough space for them as well. And if not, we should just take a deep breath altogether, and enjoy a moment of silence accompanied by the songs of the birds outside, and once we did that, we can get back to work.

We took that deep breath, and we shared that silence together, but right after that they all expressed that they share my feelings. And it is good that I managed to bring perspective because this way it will be easier to continue the program. “Things said are things solved”, mentioned someone from our small group, and we continued the work. Nothing has changed, but somehow all the tasks that we had to sort out felt empowering, the atmosphere became lighter, and we started to joke more in the process, to smile more and to breathe more.

How often do you realize, that you almost missed this moment of expressed reality check? And how often do you realize only after hours, maybe days, that it was a missed opportunity? And what do you think: how often do you miss this moment completely? How often do you think we miss these moments completely during our lives?

As a man, but also as a person who has an Eastern European background, I find it difficult to be vulnerable. I learned to do it, I learned what is the bare minimum needed to express at least some sort of vulnerability, to acknowledge the place I am in the given moment. What helped me is to see, that expressing vulnerability, and doing the inner reality check out loud is not just about me, it is also about my surrounding. They deserve to be updated, so they can prepare themselves to handle me optimally. Let me elaborate on this.

As one of my mentors used to say: “I trust you mean: I am able to handle you”. If this is true, I can support others trusting me, by actively contributing to their well-being by giving them a manual of how to interpret me and making sure, that I am updating it regularly. This is out of care, this is out of care towards me as well. If people can handle me, if they can trust me, they will not spend energy on being self-defensive and will actively make sure, that they check in with me, while expressing their needs as well in the process. It is such a win-win, right?

It sounds like a lot of work though, right? Yes, it really is more, than we could call conveniently comfortable, for sure. Is it more work, than handling all the emerging emotions, frustrations, avoidance, and confusion that emerges from missing such an opportunity to do a shared reality check with your team? I believe it would be less. Stopping, looking, and correcting the course by taking the necessary action does take time and does take energy. Yet I believe it is incomparable to the energy needed to handle all the crisis, that emerges if we miss the window to act sustainably.

The training was a success. We were tired after 10 days, yet the debriefing of the program went easily, in good mood and with a lot of laughter and teasing. As debriefings should happen.

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