Self design

This past week various threads have come together that weave into a mouse-mat sized tapestry on one aspect of self-design or re design. During the week a friend sent me the link two TEDx talks by Brene Brown. One is on shame and one is on vulnerability. Brown 'studies human connection – our ability to empathize, belong, love.' In the talks she poses the questions: How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?' Each talk is 20 minutes and worth the time investment.

Listening to the talks reminded me of a book I read years ago 'Women who run with the wolves'. I felt sure that it had a discussion of shame in it. It does, in fact, it has a whole chapter on shame which echoes much of what Brene Brown talks about, which may be because they are both in the Jungian camp. The author, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, suggests that personal stories associated with shame 'are like black gravel under the skin of the soul', and like Brown says that 'Keeping shame a secret is profoundly disturbing to the pysche', they both suggest that there is good news because there are ways of healing and rethinking (redesigning) oneself.

In Estes words 'choose to open the secret, speak of it to someone, write another ending, examine one's part in it and one's attributes in enduring it. She says that the learnings from this are equal parts pain and wisdom.' Brown talks of the swampland of shame. Her approach is about putting on galoshes and walking through the swampland looking at it and 'finding our way around'. She suggests that three things reinforce shame: secrecy, silence and judgment and, as Estes is, is firm in saying that talking about shame and showing empathy to oneself and others about shame loosens its hold and frees the spirit.
The word 'vulnerability' does not appear in the index of Estes book but themes of loss and vulnerability infuse it. Her language use is simply amazing. She talks of the 'song of the starved soul' and like Brown encourages people to un-numb (her equivalents of) vulnerability and live with the loss of control and wish to predict and simply believe that 'I'm enough'.

The messages from both are that shame and vulnerability become strengths if you confront and work with them. This notion of expressing weakness and showing vulnerability is one that comes up frequently in leadership discussions. One article I read several years ago and debated hotly with colleagues was 'Why Should Anyone be Led by You' by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones. They too encourage leaders to be courageous enough to reveal their weaknesses, saying:

'When leaders reveal their weaknesses, they show us who they are—warts and all. This may mean admitting that they're irritable on Monday mornings, that they are somewhat disorganized, or even rather shy. Such admissions work because people need to see leaders own up to some flaw before they participate willingly in an endeavor. Exposing a weakness establishes trust and thus helps get folks on board. Indeed, if executives try to communicate that they're perfect at everything, there will be no need for anyone to help them with anything. They won't need followers. They'll signal that they can do it all themselves. … Sharing an imperfection is so effective because it underscores a human being's authenticity.'

What I got from Brown, Estes, and Goffee was the idea that once you come to terms with your shame and vulnerability and decide to confront it you are in the process of learning how to redesign yourself. Greg Smith, the guy who wrote the March 14 NY Times article 'Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs' may well be in that category. He doesn't explicitly use the word 'shame' in his article, but he does say "The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for" and "It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off." In this respect the article implies the shame he now admits, and many of the current 372 comments point out that in making himself vulnerable in the way he did took a great deal of courage. Brown's quote 'Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage' bears thinking about.

As any designer and re-designer knows it does take courage and persistence to get to a workable new design – Brown mentions Myshkin Ingawale who tried 32 times to design an anemia testing kit before it worked, and the Edison story of the 10,000 light bulbs is well known. (I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work). It's the same with organization design, and with self-design. Discuss the shame of a design not working. Expose the vulnerability inherent in even aiming to design. Take courage and walk into the unknown.

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