The Power of Vulnerability
By Hacia Atherton
By Hacia Atherton
Have the courage to lead with vulnerability and watch how your relationships strengthen.
When I started to experience the power of vulnerability, the results were incredible. A weight lifted off my shoulder. I was able to cope better and my relationships improved. The most magical thing was to also create a place for others to find the courage to be vulnerable. My vulnerable strength spread confidently throughout my circle and I felt empowered as a leader and authentic communicator. I set out a strategy for goals, little and grand, with each day, I made a little bit of progress until I was able to walk again, my graduate CPA certificate in hand. We can achieve so much by embracing the power of vulnerability. Now more than ever our community needs authentic movements for supporting vulnerable forms of leadership.
As a leading expert in the area of vulnerability, PhD sociologist, writer and thought leader, Doctor Brene Brown shares that vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness:
‘If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive. The word courage originally means ‘heart’ and the definition of courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.’
I have had to embrace the unique courage that has been vulnerable since 2017 when I fell off my beautiful horse and was crushed under the weight of a 600 kilos, which shattered my pelvis. I went from one point; a confident and competitive dressage rider at an international level and being on top of the world as an athlete, to being told I’d never walk again. Bedridden in a hospital, my pelvis and right hip in severe physical trauma, my body in excruciating pain, I experienced some of the darkest hours of my life, uncertain what my future would even be like now I was in a wheelchair. I have come a long way since that winter day in June 2017, mentally and physically. And I see the results every single day in how my vulnerability is a part of my strength.
On day 117 I took my first attempt at standing and felt the pain of my experience reflected back to me in the eyes of my mother and little sister as they watched me struggle to hold my body up for more than a couple of seconds with my physiotherapist holding me steady.
Each morning I wake up and the physical pain of my accident is there. I have to choose how strong I can be that day to achieve certain goals, but the first part I practice is gratitude, no matter what I achieve that day, I have a sense of gratitude for being able to walk down the hallway to my morning cup of coffee. I find so much gratitude in being able to walk again, and each day comes with it’s own small victories.
The courage to share our weaknesses as a community has kept us courageous in a time of uncertainty to continue to face the days ahead. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and show the world the wholehearted struggle of being human. Each morning, we wake up with scars, visible and invisible. All our hardships, pain and physical scars that mark us. When I see the scars on my body from my accident, it takes a lot of strength to embrace them. I tell myself my scars are beautiful and they are a sign of my strength and resilience. Everyone carries with them the invisible scars from the pain and victories they have achieved in their lifetime. It’s so difficult to fully see other people when we are not comfortable to be vulnerable with ourselves as leaders that embrace an authentic voice.
If 2020 demonstrated the power of vulnerability, it was through the pictures of medical staff, overworked after hours of long shifts during the height of the pandemic. As each of us went through the challenges of lockdowns, whole countries grappled with the vulnerability of a medical emergency with strategic planning in a moment-to-moment expression of vulnerability. An entire world became captured by the uncertainty of the future, this is particularly true for younger workers, those that have come of age in a time of ambiguity.
I felt as if the light in my lantern of vulnerability was there to serve others. The pathway out is a long process and how we are going to engage with each other for a brighter light out of this collective trauma is a fresh scar on the year of 2021. Now when I sit down to meetings or meet with new people, I know I am able to be authentic and be compassionate towards the courage that it takes to be vulnerable.
As we step into 2021 with uncertainty, the courage to be vulnerable is there. I feel stronger in my broken places, both physically and mentally now that I confidently embrace vulnerability as a part of myself. Now I see it in others stories and can share my own, forming greater authenticity, trust and courage. How did I learn to harness my vulnerability and shift the perspective to be a stronger person?
Our world isn’t always ready for us to show our scars. I see my physical scars from my accident as a sign of strength. The moments that have given us strength, insight and character to our personality help drive our courage. It isn’t easy to be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable can be extremely uncomfortable, before my accident I struggled to be vulnerable and even today there are certain people in my life I find it very difficult to be vulnerable with. However what I have embraced is that being vulnerable is something you can train and develop. I started embracing vulnerability out of necessity, I was drowning in my emotions and struggles at different points in my recovery and I needed help.
How did I overcome the discomfort and start to embrace vulnerable self leadership? I began with small steps. I started to open up to people I trusted; at first this was a professional psychologist who gave me the tools to start communicating with myself and others in a way that made me feel safe to be vulnerable.
My confidence to set up more goals appeared after that, as I knew this inner journey required a strategic plan. A set ‘quotes’ of how many times a day or a week I was going to show a moment of vulnerability. This could be a social media post, expressing my feelings in a piece of writing, speaking to a friend or even a stranger
Once I started to build my vulnerability courage I could take bigger and bigger swings, I’m writing and publicly producing articles on vulnerability and openly talking about my hospital days in adult nappies. But this all started with a simple conversation to say I’m not okay and to allow myself to feel my emotions!
It takes courage to be vulnerable. A society that strives with appearances and titles, status and achievements means that to be vulnerable takes courage. We have come to witness the giants of power be stung by vulnerability quickly. To navigate with courage and certainty relies on perspectives and insights from the past scars of collective experiences.
To embrace these fresh scars and know there is a beauty in the battle and a dignity in the recovery, to know that we will support each other in the harsh moments as people and communities adapt. It isn’t always easy, but each of us has that lantern of vulnerability inside from all the pains we have gained wisdom and perspective from. When that light turns on, you feel stronger in a time of crisis to help those around you as a leader and having the road map to be a courageous and quality leader. It can help so many people in your team, community to feel the courage to show their scars and be leaders in the gymnasium of empathy.
Now it is January 2021 and we reflect on which ‘broken places’ we are strong in. Sometimes the most difficult part of our day is winning those small victories that no one knows about. Maybe your morning routine begins with a particular ritual of coffee and music. Perhaps you always manage to practice gratitude as a part of a small victory. Maybe you didn’t give up on your career despite the challenges of the 2020 economic hardships.
In the Japanese philosophy Kintsugi, the favourite bowl of the Japanese emperor broken into pieces. Unable to fix it, they sent it away to be fixed only for it to be returned cheaply and the beauty of the bowl was no longer shining through. They sent the bowl away again, this time to be melded with gold. And here we find the beauty in broken pieces and to honour the fragile vulnerability of what has been broken and turn it into something that is fused with the strength and honour of gold.
Being vulnerable is asking for help when you really need it, and to learn to be patient with the results. Being vulnerable is being able to admit your past failures as a part of the pieces that brought you closer to the goals you want to achieve today, knowing the wisdom is a part of the artwork as well. According to the Japanese philosophy of ‘Kintsugi,’ to heal is an artwork in itself, to show that you have beauty with golden cracks.
Being vulnerable is a powerful form of leadership because it enables us to be seen in our strength and in our weaknesses, to see the golden moments in our hardships and in our pain. The insight it enables us to have, as we become empathic to others and have the right tools to assist others in their vulnerability, to become stronger as a community and to be curious about our pain instead of being afraid of the scars.
We’re all trying. Each day, a little victory occurs for someone. No one person’s expectations for the upcoming year are the same. As the challenges that may arise give us the opportunity to be patient with our vulnerability and our failures, turning the pathways of uncertainty and the unknown into a pathway guided by a golden toolbox of strategies to achieve the best outcomes.
In 2021 we embrace the uncertainty of the pathway ahead, knowing we have to work with patience to move forward. Hard work and honesty and the power to be vulnerable are points of gold. It may have been a couple of years since I took that first step again. However, Each morning I am grateful to walk down the hallway to my morning coffee and to walk my dogs. This gratitude helps me to deal with the emotional battle that comes with living a life in constant physical pain.
My legacy as a young leader and a woman is to embrace this hardship with courage becoming the master of my fear and pain, not allowing it to be the master of me. My journey has made me passionate about inspiring others to see their remarkable potential and facilitate a diverse and empowered network of leaders across industries.
Vulnerability and disability are multifaceted and that is why I want to empower others to find their own courage to achieve their goals no matter what barriers the world has given them.