The Dream of Going to School in Your Underwear and Learning to be Vulnerable
I’ve had the same reoccurring dream for many years. The dream is that I have gone somewhere in my skivvies. I’m talking school, work, dates; you get the picture, all places showing up in your underwear are not acceptable. So I did a little research on the meaning behind this dream. And from what I can tell, dreaming about being in your underwear has little to do with how you feel about your body and more about fear of being vulnerable.
Vulnerability has a bad reputation.
For a good reason, when I looked up the definition of vulnerable, I found “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” Who wants exposure to natural or emotional harm?
BUT being vulnerable will make you a better leader
There are two things I would like for you to do to understand vulnerability better;
- Start reading books by Dr. Brené Brown; she has dedicated years researching shame and vulnerability. Reading her books changed my life and my perspective.
- Watch this TedTalk by Dr. Brown on vulnerability.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Dr. Brené Brown
Being vulnerable takes courage.
Showing vulnerability is how you will grow as a leader, mother, friend, partner, and human. When I started working for the fire department, I was 23 years old. Although I knew I wanted to work for the fire department, I didn’t want to fail. Completing the Academy took courage, determination, and at times, sheer will.
Fast forward five years, and I became a lieutenant (first-line supervisor). Another firefighter told me that I was too young and didn’t have enough experience to be a boss. I was going through some personal problems, and I was worried I would fail, face judgment, criticism, or not send my crew home safe after each shift. There are not many women in my profession, and certainly not a lot of women who step into leadership roles at a young age which added pressure to succeed.
I am now the boss and expected to lead.
My first day as a lieutenant was 13 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. My first assignment was to a ladder truck with three incredible men who had a well-deserved reputation for being one of the City’s best truck crews. All of the guys were acquaintances over the years, and one of the firefighters was an academy brother. To say I was nervous was an understatement! I don’t think I slept for a few days before my shift.
As soon as I walked into the station, a fire call dropped. I am not making that up; I hardly had time to get my gear on the truck and figure out where we were going. The fire turned out to be a small kitchen fire with little damage.
When we returned to the station, I told the guys I was excited to work for them. I believe that as a leader, you serve the people who work for you. I was taking a risk by sharing with them that I was nervous. And following up with a list of reasons why I was nervous. The senior firefighter smiled and said, “Just relax; you aren’t going to learn everything in a day; we will help you.” I took a breath of relief and continued to be vulnerable.
For five years, I served the crews on the truck and engine at that station. Those years were truly the golden days of my career. Those guys are still near and dear to my heart. We laughed, cried, and all helped each other grow. I believe with all my heart that a big key to our success is that we were vulnerable. In fact, I didn’t know that being vulnerable was a “thing” I was just me.
I have continued to grow as a leader and human. When dark times hit, the first thing I want to do is to protect myself and shut down from the world. Being vulnerable and sharing my struggles feels weird and counterintuitive. When shame, fear, and helplessness overwhelm me, I prefer to drink a couple of bottles of wine and go to sleep.
But drinking my shame and vulnerability doesn’t help, and that is not the example I want to be for my son or my team. So I reach out to my tribe, and I spill my guts. I open the wounds and go through the suck. And the most incredible stuff starts happening. I feel better when I open my heart and watch the dark times fade to gray, and then the light shines in. The process isn’t easy, and having a supportive tribe is a must, but it works.
Five steps you can take today to become more vulnerable
- As I mentioned earlier, read all books by Dr. Brené Brown, her work is LIFE CHANGING
- Get to know yourself. Sounds simple, but to be genuine, authentic, and vulnerable, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses and how they affect your leadership style. A good place to start is strengths finder.
- Get a 360-degree evaluation. Ask everyone on your team to evaluate you. Too often, we get reviews from our superiors who may not have to work with us all the time. Asking your subordinates how you are doing as a boss can be invaluable. Feedback is a gift if we are open to receiving it and using the feedback to improve.
- Know your leadership style. I am a servant leader, but that is not everyone’s cup of tea. Take the time to know your style to explain to your team how you lead, your expectations for your team, and what they can expect from you.
- Let your guard down and start sharing. Obviously, with discretion and know your audience. I don’t typically share my frustration with my group of guys with my jeans not fitting the post-mom body. But I do share with them lots of stories of my little man and the struggles with his dad. I make myself human to them, and for that, I earn their trust and loyalty.
I continue to have dreams about showing up in places in my underwear, and I welcome dreams of being insecure. Because I think it is my subconscious reminding me that I might be closing myself off to the world and my people. Showing vulnerability is not for the weak of spirit; it takes a lot of energy to smack down fear.
I remind myself of great advice from the beloved Dr. Seuss “Those that mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.”