Putting Our Vulnerability to Work

Over the past few days, our country has been on a monumental journey. That journey has meant different things to different people, but universally the shift that has taken place is one of redefinition, of altered understanding, and of new identities. Concepts of community, of relationship, the very grounding on which we stand, have shifted.

Needless to say this is a personal experience, and regardless of whether this change was welcome or feared, the aftermath is for all deeply personal. Upheaval brings heightened emotions and with heightened emotions come vulnerability. Around this country, millions are struggling with what this means to them, both in the public sphere and at home.

And in this after shock, I’ve heard many voices struggling with how to come back to work. Whether you’re independent or part of an organization, whether you define your tasks or someone else does, many of us are feeling a block — how can we focus on work, when all of this is happening to me?

This struggle seems to me to be a function of the fact that we feel like we need to keep our true selves and our work separate; we need to be “professional,” we need to “focus” on the task at hand. I’d like to offer a perspective that I hope might be helpful, not only for this moment of moving forward, but as an ongoing concept for how we enter into the world and engage with those around us.

Work and me are not separate. Your work is an expression of your self. There is a space in your work for those experiences, and in fact, if we can know them and understand how they’re affecting us, they can make us — and our work-related actions — more powerful. If you’re feeling vulnerable, use that vulnerability to approach the conversation you’ve been avoiding or make the ask you’ve been waiting on making. If you’re feeling reflective, perhaps this is a good time to shut down your email and work on that strategic plan that’s been on the back burner for months.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but the more we can conscientiously bring our full selves and all of our raw emotions and experiences into our work and lives, the more we can avoid destabilizations and surprises — both professional and otherwise — and the more we can contribute to communities of understanding and awareness.

The need for this kind of attention to exercising the muscles that allow us to bring personal learnings to practical outcomes is not new. This is at the heart of what allows us to be Self-Led, and is the meat of what I have been working on at Purpl, the TED Residency (TED talk still coming soon) and elsewhere over the past few months because of its significance related to student success, to reducing isolation, to fostering persistence and advancement in business, to building retention and engagement in organizations. But I feel an urgency about getting this message out big and wide right nowbecause I know it can help in such a critical way on each of our individual journeys, but also because if we can truly understand this as a society, we can infuse this unity and clarity of inward understanding and outward action into our schools and workplaces in a way that will not just benefit metrics and bottom lines, but selves and communities as well.

What are you experiencing right now that you can channel into your work? What tasks are at hand to which you can bring the fullness of your experience? You’ll be surprised how satisfying and productive you can be when you do.