Full disclosure: I have not read the best selling author Brene Brown’s book on vulnerability. But I did listen to her TED talk. And I’ve felt the ripple effects of her thought leadership in bunco circles, Sunday sermons, and women’s professional networking groups. Thanks in part to Brene’s leading the discussion about acceptance and understanding in our culture, vulnerability has hit the mainstream.

It is clear to me that despite its popularity, this buzz word still has different interpretations. When I split a bottle of wine with my closest friends and start to discuss the V-word (no, the other one), it comes across as something akin to a Catholic confessional. All of a sudden, there’s a sense that we need to share our deepest sins and our shame to feel accepted, if not absolved. And yet, what I don’t hear discussed often enough is the ability to share our strengths and talents as a form of vulnerability.

The Definition

Vulnerability means, according to Merriam-Webster, “open to attack or damage.” Certainly sharing one’s shortcomings is a form of exposure. But, I would argue, so is demonstrating one’s unique gifts. And sometimes it’s much easier to admit our insecurities than to display our knowledge and strength.

What I often recognize within myself and within my peer group- especially among women- is that it can be comforting to confess our mistakes, losses, and regrets. But sharing our successes tends to open ourselves up more for personal attacks than relaying failure does. Often it’s much easier to hide in the shadows of someone else’s accomplishments than it is to stake claim to our own hard work and the results of it.

But if we look at it holistically, vulnerability is as much about rising up as it is about falling down. Vulnerability is as much about a woman taking a risk to start her own company or rise through the ranks of her corporation as it is about sharing relationship struggles and weight insecurities. Ultimately vulnerability is about being honest. And in order to truly encourage a culture of vulnerable men and women, we need to stop being so darn demure all the time. And we need to stop acting like the people around us who are exposing themselves to high-level business and personal risks don’t know anything about vulnerability. Because it’s just not true.  

The Re-Definition

So the next time someone asks how you are doing, please be vulnerable- across the board. Tell them how you question your parenting ability on a daily basis; but don’t forget to mention that your kid said you were his hero in a school essay. Talk about the fact that you struggle to be the type of manager who is both a confidant and an authority figure; but throw in that you hit your last sales pitch out of the park, too. And the next time you are pondering whether or not to take a risk- be it climbing an actual mountain, entering into a post-divorce relationship or applying for a promotion at work, remember that vulnerability can be defined by success as much as by failure. But what it can’t be defined by is doing inertia, silence, or taking the easy way out.