Courage and Vulnerability

I finally recently watched Brené Brown’s The Call to Courage on Netflix. For those unfamiliar with her, Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her 2010 TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” went viral and has close to 45 million views.

When we think about courage, we often picture the strong, confident superhero. But Brown frames courage in another way — it’s about being vulnerable. In fact, in her Netflix special she says, “Vulnerability = uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure. There’s no courage without vulnerability.”

Many people have applauded my courage in going on this sabbatical. But I can’t help thinking that I really haven’t been all that brave. I had a lot of savings and our expenses are relatively low, so I knew there was not much financial risk. It wasn’t going to hurt my professional prospects because (a) I was looking to change fields and (b) these types of sabbaticals are pretty common these days so employers wouldn’t blink, even if I did end up returning to the same industry.

I haven’t even been all that courageous in the way I’ve approached my career exploration. I’ve taken classes, which I knew I would succeed in because school has always come easily to me. I’ve explored content creation more as a hobby where stakes are relatively low and have taken on tasks that I knew I was skilled in. 

It’s been a very controlled and calculated approach to my sabbatical. But in The Call to Courage, Brown states, “Vulnerability is not about winning. It’s not about losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” 

Now, pre-sabbatical Laura — the control freak — would have cringed at that notion. But even mid-sabbatical Laura is slow to take this path. “Can’t control the outcome” … now, that IS scary.

That’s why I’m proud of a little creative endeavor I took on: directing a staged reading. This was the first piece that I have ever directed! To you, the stakes may seem pretty low. “It’s just a staged reading.” “You’re not even looking to do that professionally.” But for me, this was a big deal.

Imposter syndrome was in full force during the process. I really did not know how skilled I would be and what the finished product would look like. Would the actors hate me? Would my vision be stagnant and boring? Would I even have a clear vision for the piece? Would the reading live up to the writer’s expectations? Would the audience be totally turned off by the piece?

I had plenty of opportunities to back out. I got pregnant, and the reading was a mere two weeks before my due date. I got offered an acting gig that would have conflicted with this. 

But I was determined to stick with it. To do something I had never done. To do something that scared me. To do something that I might fail at.

And parts of the process didn’t come easy. I struggled with scheduling and juggling actors conflicts. I had to sometimes take different approaches to communicating my vision. I had to try things, see they didn’t really work, and then try something new. And I had to accept that some things I had in my head weren’t really going to translate on stage.

Well, that staged reading was last night and … it went great! Was it perfect? No. Are there things I would have changed? Of course! 

But the point is, I showed up. I did the thing I wasn’t sure I would succeed in. And even if it had gone horribly, even if I had failed, it would have been important that I did it anyway.

My wonderful cast takes their bow. Photo: Ryan Lee Short

The play I directed was part of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, an original works staged reading series. This year’s festival runs Wednesday-Saturday, November 6- November 23. Learn more.

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