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Realizing Your Success Through Vulnerability

This article was based on the 99U interview, “Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count,” by Brené Brown:

Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count


Sweaty Creatives

Brown opens her discussion by addressing her fear of fitting in with the audience at the 99U conference.  She explains that design is a creative function of connection and there is nothing more vulnerable than creativity. Her personal name for the talk is “Sweaty Creatives,” because she knows what it means to be a sweaty creative.  Her talk is not about the perspiration from hard work and creating; it is about the perspiration from fear.

There is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, that Brown shares, changed her life.  After one of her talks went viral, Brown was faced with harsh criticism.  It was at that time she read a quote from Roosevelt’s Man at the Arena speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


A Shift in Beliefs

After reading that quote, Brown felt a strong shift in her beliefs.  She had spent the past 12 years studying vulnerability, and Roosevelt’s words summed up everything she knew about vulnerability. It is not about winning or losing; it is about showing up and being seen.  She knew that she wanted to create new things that had never before existed. She wanted to show and be seen in her work and her life. The only certainty to follow this type of creativity is that there will be criticism.  This means that if courage is a value that you hold, you have to accept this as a consequence that cannot be avoided.

What truly set Brown free was her realisation that those people who are not open to being vulnerable do not have meaningful feedback. We should be accepting of constructive feedback, but ignore those who are only offering criticism without doing.


Accepting Vulnerability

Being a creative can mean living with fear, self-doubt, comparison, anxiety, and uncertainty. When most people face these emotions, they seek protection. The problem is that sometimes, in protecting ourselves from vulnerability, we shut ourselves off.


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Accepting vulnerability leads to love, belonging, joy, trust, empathy, creativity, and innovation. Without vulnerability, you cannot create. As a creative, you are asked to be vulnerable on a daily basis. You need to put yourself out there so people can see what you are doing.


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Sometimes our vulnerability causes us to focus on the critics. The best way to become comfortable with this is to know that the critics are there and to know what they are going to say. When you share your work, you will always know there will be shame, scarcity, and comparison. Shame is a universal human emotion that we all have.  Scarcity is related to originality and the thought that your work is the same as what everyone else has to offer. Comparison is holding your work up to other works to see which is better.  

The key is to stop worrying about what people think.  When we become defined by what people think, we lose our capacity to be vulnerable.  Brown invites us to accept that the critics will always be there. We can see them, and hear them, but we have to push forward anyway, ignoring their feedback.


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The Courage to Show Up

In order to be creative, you have to value courage.  You have to have the courage to show up knowing that things can go either good or bad. Success has to become irrelevant. It is also important to have someone in your life who can support you when you fail because if you are not failing some of the time, you are not really showing up. This person will acknowledge your bravery and encourage you to keep trying.

We need to accept that the critics will always be there and the world keeps going whether or not we succeed.  The people who are the most successful are willing to show up and be the most vulnerable. They are the ones who are very clear about who the critics are.  When you look at your work, you have to acknowledge that you are your biggest critic. You need to believe in who you are and what you are doing. You need to be the one saying it is scary to show up but now showing up would be worse.


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