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How to embrace vulnerability

and why it connects us in an authentic way


  • Quarantine dilemma
  • Darkness or light
  • Sane insanity
  • Vulnerability as authenticity
  • Awareness and trust


We want to introduce our live experience subject with an interesting but controversial social dilemma that we’ve all experienced during the pandemic. How has the quarantine situation highlighted some of the issues we face as a society?

That’s for you to decide.

Our work, personal and social structures have all been affected. We’ve suffered a 180 degree change that is making us feel unsafe, uncertain and emotionally volatile. We have no idea what the near future has in store for us, this creates insecurity and there’s no guide explaining how to handle situations like this.

The situation has brought up anxiety, depression and anger. For many of us it was as if were on an unstoppable emotional rollercoaster and we accepted it, at least for a little while.

Quarantine Dilemma

For a couple of weeks global anxiety was normalized as part of our new condition and then we started seeing posts like this in our newsfeeds.

Suddenly not only did we need to be as productive as usual, but now (since we had all the time we could ever wish for), we needed to be EVEN MORE productive. The whole world was signing up for different activities; exercise routines and MBA´s. They started developing new skills and reading 4 books per day.

So, rather than acknowledging the difficult period we were living through and trying our best to get through it, we started to feel as if we were in a competition for who could be the most productive individual during this very unfortunate moment for humankind. This affected everyone’s mental health and caused us to freak out about our social expectations, our confined reality began looking something like this.

At The Failure Institute we believe this current dissonance between productivity and anxiety is caused by a few things that society has wrongly accepted.

Narratives are a peculiar form of how societies generalize behaviours and paradigms, here we will focus on 2 narratives and scrutinize them with you.

Darkness or light

The world we live in is presented to us in terms of scales: success vs failure, winning vs losing, light vs darkness, and black vs white even though we accept the story of life vs death. 

This makes life a struggle, a battle for survival in which you always need to be on the “positive” side of the scale, otherwise you’re a loser, life is kicking your ass and making you less worthy. 

Whenever you are feeling down, anxious, angry or even not fully focused, this makes you feel even more miserable, because the positive feeling would be normal and productive, so you put pressure on yourself and try to fight the ¨negative feeling¨ making it impossible to just sit with the feeling until it changes naturally, the more upset we get the harder it is to get over it.

Having some perspective often helps, darkness/light are two sides of a whole, they are not against each other but necessary to co-exist. Understanding that if we don’t have darkness, light could not exist helps us to accept all the aspects of life such as failure, loss or death. And then it’s no longer a struggle, it’s just part of the balance and we can stop fighting it.

Sane insanity

Aligned with the Darkness & Light paradigm another thing that affects us when we’re trying to cope with anxiety, is that we keep trying to be fine.

It’s ok, except that the current situation (and the human experience itself) tends to be a little more complicated than just “fine”.

We are in uncertain times, we have a complex history, a system that constantly reforms itself, things change too quickly, we experience devastating losses, the gap between our hopes and our realities is constantly changing.

Let’s be logical, aiming for sanity, makes no sense!

Why do we try to keep things linear when our lives are like a rollercoaster?

Alain de Botton philosopher and founder of School of life, explores the concept of Sane Insanity in his book An Emotional Education.

It has nothing to do with being crazy, it is about achieving an awareness of and a mature relationship with our insanities. It’s about understanding that things are not always perfect or fine, and not creating this pressure and troubling desire of normalcy. Calmly accepting (without losing self esteem) that we are deeply peculiar and complex individuals and most importantly that we don’t have to be fine all the time.

This doesn’t magically reduce the pain or the anxiety, but it helps us make peace with it and that’s kind of relieving isn’t it? 

Let’s go back to the beginning and explore the conception of Vulnerability a little further.

What is vulnerability?

So let’s rewind a little and start with what vulnerability is and how we perceive it.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says “vulnerable”, perhaps it’s something associated with weakness or insecurity. Don’t worry, it’s not your fault, this common misconception is what we’ve been taught and it’s how prejudices and bias work, social concepts establish themselves in a deep layer of our brain and condition our behaviours.

It's not our fault but it is our responsibility to deconstruct any belief in a way that aligns to your personal values, and even to deconstruct some of those values in the process.

Defining the right mental paradigms is fundamentally important because that’s what drives our actions and habits. Our northstar at The Failure Institute is to help people break free from the paradigms that limit their lives.

That’s the intention of this platform, to create a safe space where you can question, challenge, and redefine concepts that you have created in the past. This is the place to reevaluate if continuing to live by these concepts makes sense for you, without the external pressure of having to be someone you’re not or do something you don’t want to. No expectations, just freedom to choose.

Vulnerability as authenticity

So what is vulnerability?

Imagine that the purpose wasn’t about winning or losing, being right or being wrong, being accepted or being rejected. How would you be?

The picture in your mind right now is what vulnerability is. Having the opportunity to be whoever you want to be and to show yourself as you truly are, letting go of the need to adjust your personality due to external circumstances. Pure authenticity.

So, vulnerability could be a weaker version of yourself, but it also could be a stronger personality, being more upfront and straightforward; it doesn’t have to be associated with being less or with negative emotions.

The power that vulnerability gives us, is the possibility to engage with people in an honest way, not pretending to be someone else. That creates deeper connections, as Brene Brown explains in her Ted Talk. It makes you engage in a fair way, not from a position of winning or losing, but on a more human level.

What would your true self look like if the purpose wasn't about winning and losing?

Awareness & Trust

One of the questions we’re often asked is, how can we start building vulnerability?

And as we like to say: we don’t have the answer 🙂 But that hasn’t stopped us from asking ourselves those difficult questions. So, if you want to strengthen vulnerability for teams or personal relationships, hold that thought. 

We tend to believe that before we can show ourselves as vulnerable, we first need to either build trust or to ask the other person to be more honest, authentic or vulnerable.  But that’s the interesting part:

Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust, it has to precede it.

The initial barrier we create is trying to show ourselves as “strong” when meeting a stranger for the first time, to project intelligence and wiseness, because that would make people think of us as a reliable person.  But, let’s think about how the best connections and relationships in our life started.

Perhaps you are imagining how your friend fell down the stairs when drunk at a party, or another random occasion that turned someone from an acquaintance to a true friend. Friendship is the result of gratitude and reciprocity, when one human being offers another something very valuable to him or her, this is called intimacy. That bitter moment she shared, that sad day you spent with him, that falling down the stairs transformed strangers into friends.

We have this constant struggle and anxiety, about whether people are going to like us or not because of who we are. The key point is to take the first step, and understand that we connect with people because of what we do, more than who we are.

What if we were told that the true enabler for empathy is intimacy, and that we connect more with people from our weird, funny and authentic sides?
Would that make us change how we approach other people?

Vulnerability at work

How can we be as free and authentic as pandas in the grass?

Let’s start with the things that you are probably missing when trying to build or foster vulnerability at work.

Vulnerable Leadership

First of all, we need to remember the importance of taking the first steps when we are trying to build intimacy.

Another hidden perk of being vulnerable is that it helps us to make the right moral decisions. When you start making any choice with empathy, you will by default consider the counterpart and that will lead to finding a solution that involves everyone winning.  Here the phrase “the end justifies the means” is impossible to conceive because when you actually think and measure the consequences of your actions by how they might affect others you think twice about each action.

We like to say that privilege can be used fairly, but also we believe in the radical minds that push changes without the need of hierarchical positions. So whether you are a leader or not, we need more crazy people changing narratives and personal behaviours.

Showing interest in people’s opinions, passions and most importantly, listening to them with your full attention can guarantee your ability to engage with anyone.

We need to start encouraging kindness. The corporate system tends to associate kindness with naivety, foolishness or not being brave enough. When being kind is the most powerful thing we can give to other people. We need to change the connotations of what being kind really is, in order to give it the importance it deserves.

Last but not least, when we are managing a team it’s paramount to choose the right words and the right messages that we want to stand out. In this means, we need to be careful when we aim for perfection. Everything in this world aims to be perfect. But as we previously said there’s no such thing as perfect projects, people or companies.

Building empathetic relationships

1. Similar Situations. different realities.

We should not forget in these times of crisis ( and in any other moment, actually) that although we face similar situations, work in the same company, watch the same Netflix series: realities, backgrounds and context between colleagues will never be the same.

And if we want to build empathy and construct better relationships, we need to get rid of our assumptions. Stop guessing, ask and then caringly try to understand each situation. When you let prejudices or preconceptions control the conversation, negotiation or message, you can lose the connection with the person you are trying to communicate with. 

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