I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my abdominal surgery to remove my gallbladder. It got me thinking about what it was like to have several medical issues and injuries over the past year (just as I was fully recovering from that surgery, I fractured a bone in my foot… my first bone break – ouch!), and particularly, what I learned from that experience. I realized that the lessons I learned are not only important ones, but are universal. It doesn’t matter if you are not at your peak because of a medical issue or injury, a family problem, a natural disaster, or any other transition or matter that interrupts your life and work. The point is that you are not at 100% and will almost definitely need to ask for help. And that leads to Vulnerability.
I don’t know about you, but I have always been a bit of a control freak (those of you that know me well are now nodding your heads… I see you!). I pride myself on being an independent, self-sufficient, and ultra-productive individual that gets things done. Indeed, I like to tease my clients and audiences that I am recovering from CFS, Control Freak Syndrome. Notice I wrote recovering, and not recovered. I have become better and better at delegating, collaborating, and not doing everything myself over the years, but I recognize that I still have some issues with this area. It was tough at first to ask for help in the days, weeks, and months following my surgery and injury. A few things happened along the way. It got easier, I sometimes had no choice, and I saw the positive aspects of it. I learned some valuable lessons and now I want to pass them onto you. If you have always seen Vulnerability as a sign of strength and never a sign of weakness or a taboo word or idea, good for you! But if you need a little help in this area, read on.
Recognize You’re Vulnerable
As with many areas that you want to change or improve, the first step is recognition. You have to acknowledge that you are indeed vulnerable and learn to be okay with that. If you aren’t, spend some time thinking about what it will take for you to become more comfortable with that concept. Being vulnerable does not mean you are less than in any way, need to apologize, or are not showing up for people fully. For me, recognizing my vulnerability made me feel more human and connected to others instead of weak.
Prepare Your Team at Home and at Work
One way to get more comfortable with vulnerability is to prepare for it. Let your family, friends, co-workers, and colleagues know that you will be (or are) facing a trying time. They will most likely appreciate your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable. I advised my close family members and friends of my surgery and injury, as well as my private coaching clients, and any speaking engagement contacts that would be impacted by my recovery.
Relax Your Definition of Control
Vulnerability can signify a loss of control to many people. In fact, it kind of IS loss of control. The key is to accept, and sometimes even embrace, this loss of control. This is easier said than done, of course. But it is sometimes when we hold on too tightly that we, in fact, lose control. I am not advocating for a complete surrender of control, just a relaxing of it. When it comes to control, somewhere in the middle seems to be the best compromise. Set things up as best as you can, rely on those that have stepped up to help, and then lean back and let it happen.
Ask for Help
This one can be very hard for high-achievers, but is so important. Give others the chance to step up, in big and small ways. At work, this could be the beginning of someone on your team taking on more responsibility that could improve his or her professional development and provide long-lasting positive changes to his or her career. At home and in your personal life, this can help others develop new habits, or form an appreciation for how much you normally take on (without you having to toot your own horn about it!).
Two weeks after my surgery, I had to go on the road to Charleston, SC for a speaking engagement. Based on my condition and where I was in my recovery (not being able to lift or pull more than a few pounds!), I had no choice but to ask others for help. I politely asked for doors to be opened, luggage to be lifted, and many other requests. No one thought I was rude or even questioned my requests. I also carried a pillow on the plane to cover my abdomen, skipped some social activities at the conference to go rest in my room, and even mentioned my surgery and recovery from stage without being embarrassed about it. Instead of thinking that I was less than, my audience members and the team that hired me to speak were impressed that I was there!
Give Yourself a Break
We have the imagination to find creative ways to deny ourselves the time to heal and be less-than-100%-healthy. You should hear the convoluted excuses my high functioning, success-minded coaching clients devise as to why they couldn’t possibly, say, sit and read a book for an hour and rest and recover. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad that they are denying themselves such basic human treats.
Even though I know better, I would sometimes catch myself doing the same thing during my recovery the past year. Why do we do it? Sometimes it’s guilt (a sense that you don’t ‘deserve’ to be vulnerable), or because you put everyone else’s needs first. Sometimes it’s a societal dictum or a limiting belief like, “I have to work hard and reach a certain milestone before I deserve a break,” or “I have to do it all myself.” Whatever the reason, the truth is that not only do we deserve to be vulnerable – it’s essential for our health and well-being.