There is a certain buzz that falls upon Austin every spring from the whirlwind that is South by Southwest. It is the epicenter for all things innovative, creative and inspiring. There was one speaker at this year’s SBXW who stood out above the rest, and her speech continues to resonate with me.
The best talk to come out of SXSW Interactive was a keynote titled “Daring Greatly” given by a fellow social worker on a topic we often equate with weakness, shame, fear and struggle.
Brené Brown, PhD, spoke about vulnerability. This session was based on her immensely popular 2010 TEDx talk on the same subject, which turned our perceptions about this topic on its head by suggesting that vulnerability is the birthplace for joy, creativity, belonging and love.
Brown is a tremendous storyteller, with the research chops to back it up. There were several takeaways from her talk. Here are a few of the highlights that hold true in the workplace or life in general:
1) Embrace vulnerability. “Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s the most accurate measurement of courage.” Brown encouraged attendees to “choose courage over comfort. Vulnerability is the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” While many of us think vulnerability is excruciating, Brown challenged attendees with the notion that what makes you vulnerable is essentially what makes you happy and successful.
As the CEO of Retrofit, a leading weight-management solution, I found this to be enlightening from a business perspective, as there would be zero innovation without vulnerability. I also connected on a personal level for our courageous clients who turn to us often at their most vulnerable looking to transform their life.
2) Courageously engage in life. “If you're gonna be brave, you're gonna get hurt, Brown shared. “If you’re brave with your life and with your work, you are going to get your ass kicked. That's the physics of vulnerability.” Well said.
3) Own your story. “When we own our story, we get to write the ending.” Brown explained that when something difficult happens, emotions take the first crack at understanding it and, when we don’t have all the facts, we tend to fill in the blanks with our own thoughts and worries. She challenged attendees to not let that story take charge of us. She reported that the story we first tell ourselves is often a sh***y first draft (SFD). All great writers start with a “SFD.” Seventy-percent of resilient people write down their “SFD,” so they can fact check. We need to take the time to write down our stories, edit them and write our own endings.
4) Be intentional about making time to think. SXSW, for me, was about carving out several days of intentional time to listen at scale and think about the possibilities. The conference inundates attendees with information and days of thinking that can be applied to business or life in general. When was the last time you carved out time to just think? And I’m not talking about meditating. I’m talking about intentional time where you think about what is going on around you and how you can apply it.
With endless to-do lists and competing priorities — both personal and professional — it is difficult to squeeze in time to just ponder. Carving out time in your day to think is what ignites those ‘aha’ moments that can have positive implications for your personal and professional life.
I start every day doing just that on our walking desk at the office. It has become a part of my daily routine, and where I have gotten my best ideas.
In addition, I purposely schedule time in my week to think with my employees. We hold weekly “Think with Mary” sessions, which provide an outlet for employees to identify new innovations in the market, grow professionally and think collectively about how we stay relevant for our clients and customers.
5) Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Landing in Austin and making your way to SXSW brings you to the momentary hipster and tech capital of the world. As a social-worker-turned-CEO and a mom of three, this conference was not in my comfort zone. However, it all goes back to vulnerability. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to this place of vulnerability helps you thrive.
At Retrofit, we are constantly weaving vulnerability into the fabric of our organization, whether it is through encouraging our clients to venture outside their comfort zone to try a new form of exercise or by challenging employees to enhance our solutions. Vulnerability is very much a boon whether you are an innovative startup, a large corporation or an individual on the cusp of personal transformation.
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