Innovation Starts With Vulnerability
And you can’t express true vulnerability without first being vulnerable with yourself.
By Kashara Johnson
I was once told that you cannot have true innovation without creativity and vulnerability. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that you can’t express true vulnerability without first being vulnerable with yourself. This is something that I’ve struggled with consistently and its appearance has taken on many forms. Notable ones?
-Lacking the ability to trust myself for fear of losing an unrealistic self-image
-Lacking the ability to have an honest conversation with myself about my hopes, dreams, and failures
-Lacking the ability to create boundaries with myself and with others
-Living from a place of fear and scarcity mentality
-Being more willing to carry unresolved baggage than facing it head on
-Seeking love and approval from everyone else, but myself
And for clarification, when I speak of “innovation”, I’m not only referring to the big, global groundbreaking kind. I’m also talking about the kind that happens on a personal level within all of us. The kind that compels us to let go of the patterns and people that no longer align with where we’re headed in life. The kind of innovation that is sparked when we seek to connect with someone new who is bound to impact our lives as much as we will impact theirs.
Up until recently, if you would’ve asked me what my biggest fear was, I would say failure, but I’ve come to realize that’s not really true. Thoughts and actions flow from the heart and that’s where my fear resides. My biggest fear is that I will come face to face with my inner turmoil — the source of my insecurities — and that I will discover that they can’t be fixed. Vulnerability would require me to go to those places and so sometimes I run because I fear that there is no solution to myself. We’re good at doing that aren’t we? Running, dodging, and going to great lengths to avoid the messy and painful stuff in our lives. But at some point, as I’ve found out, those tactics and ways of doing life will eventually stop working and we’ll be forced to pick up new tools for ourselves.
Fast forward a little bit and my full on sprint has now reduced to a steady jog. The fear is still there. The smaller, yet messy baggage is still there. I’ve mostly slowed down from sheer exhaustion and an increasing understanding that a fire must be extinguished at its base. It took a while to realize that I was fighting my fires all wrong. But these aren’t the kinds of things that people like to talk about - not with themselves and certainly not with others.
So all of those thoughts have led me to my next life question. How we can share ourselves more easily, be vulnerable and be safe? And is it possible to do all three of those things simultaneously?
Outside of the lens of innovation, vulnerability is part of our greater social contract with the world. However, many of us are trapped in binary beliefs, thoughts, and thought-processes. Vulnerability invites the opportunity of admission that even we aren’t capable of living within our own binary beliefs and expectations. But that admission is not easy to do. A lack of vulnerability is not sustainable if we’re seeking to do something innovative or even just outside of our comfort zones. Our fear of what could be lost will inevitably be greater than our belief in the possibility of what may lie ahead.
The walls that we have built around ourselves don’t only block off perceived dangers. They also block off collaborative relationships as well as local and global solutions. Our fear of being wrong, being uncomfortable, and appearing all around incompetent holds many of us back - including me. But it’s kind of a necessary risk to take in order to set tangible and lasting change into motion.
This feels like it should be the part where I give some popular, generic words of inspiration like, “Your greatest strengths lie in your weaknesses.” If I had read that even a year ago, I would’ve eaten it up, but in all honesty, I’m not sure if I actually believe that statement though. Maybe our weaknesses or perceived imperfections don’t hold our greatest strengths. Maybe having the courage to be vulnerable, see them for what they are, and then making the conscious decision to leverage them is though.
Innovation requires a creativity and vulnerability that stems from a pure belief in the realm of possibility. It’s what compels people to write, design, and share some of the most life-giving ideas that we have known to date. To do something like that though means that we have to shake our fear of harming our egos or of having our greatest insecurities confirmed by others. Simply put - expressing vulnerability is a risk, but it’s a requirement for a meaningful and purposeful life. If we’re not able to be vulnerable with ourselves, then we will be hard pressed to find realms of possibility in our work or in others because we will be spending so much time trying to create and develop concepts that require the least amount of risk.
But I don’t believe that we’re called to live below the line of resistance or risk. I think we’re supposed to feel the resistance and push forward anyway knowing that what lies ahead is usually better than what’s behind. And to do that requires vulnerability.