On vulnerability

I promise you that this is not some kind of bait-and-switch.  We brought you to a blog about being badass, and now I’m going to start talking about feelings.

Fun fact:  Badasses have feelings too.

Before we get started, you should watch Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on vulnerability.  Maybe watch it again if you’ve already seen it.  I’ve watched it at least half a dozen times.  It’s worth the 20-minute investment.

Now on to what on earth vulnerability has to do with public health.  As public health professionals, we know that this is hard, and often thankless, work.  There’s the prevention side, where we do everything we can to make sure that some thing (disease, violence, behavior) doesn’t happen, but we can’t see the thing that never occurs.  There’s the administrative side, where we wallow in paperwork that doesn’t seem to actually help anyone.  There’s the client side, where we still can’t figure out if we’re doing any good.  And there’s the bullshit side.  That’s the one where someone has some kind of meltdown, you find out your program will probably get cut (either by a FT position or entirely), and then your supervisor calls you in because you forgot the cover sheet on your TPS reports, and really, who even cares anymore.  So, as Brene Brown would say, you have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.  And you numb, because that’s the only way you can wake up and do it again tomorrow.

I’m not about to tell you that you should never check out and have a drink or binge-watch Scandal or whatever does it for you.  We have to numb at least some of the time, because we have to cope.  But in constant numbing, we lose our connection to other people.  If we lose the connection, we lose the purpose.

In a previous post, Nicole talked about the importance of being a real person.  This isn’t just important because it helps us to reach our target audiences.  It’s important because it allows us to be ourselves and live in alignment with our values.  It’s important because it makes us happy.  And it requires a hell of a lot of courage.  That’s pretty badass.

But this whole vulnerability thing goes further than that.  It’s not just about us.  We can’t get better at what we do if we don’t talk about our shortcomings and our programs’ shortcomings instead of putting everything on those social determinants of health we get so excited about.  We have got to stop being so defensive, and think critically about our work.  We need to have conversations that go beyond ascribing every frustration to “burnout.”  Honestly, how often do you hear public health professionals talking about how they can do their jobs better?  And how does that compare to the amount of time spent worrying about things completely out of our control?

Listen, I’m not saying that you don’t have a right to be stressed.  I am saying that we could all do a little bit better by acknowledging that things suck sometimes and letting the frustrations wash over us.  It’s the only way we can come out swinging on the other side.

In future posts, we’ll talk about what exactly vulnerability looks like in the public health workplace.  In the meantime, let’s find out what happens when people stop being polite afraid, and start getting real.

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2 thoughts on “On vulnerability

  1. ” It’s important because it allows us to be ourselves and live in alignment with our values. . . . And it requires a hell of a lot of courage. That’s pretty badass.”

    This is just great Briana. I just want to give you a hug.

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