How Can You Use Your Fear or Vulnerability to Create Courage?

I was at a conference recently. The theme was about games (simulations) that would help create psychological safety.

Psychological safety matters both at home and at work. I bet you’ve seen people who live with psychologically unsafe families. Their lack of safety makes everything about their lives much more difficult. How can you gain emotional resilience if your family criticizes or blames you?

It’s the same problem at work. How easy is it for you to discuss, challenge, and collaborate with your team members? Do people denigrate your ideas? Or, do they use, “Yes, and…” to build on your ideas?

When team members feel safe, they can discuss, challenge, and work together to create great products. Teams who feel safe perform much better than teams who don’t have safety. Why is this a big deal at work? Because, more and more, the people at work literally hold the company’s intellectual property in their heads.

Psychological safety allows us to recognize our fear. It allows us to be vulnerable with others. And, it helps us discover our courage to proceed.

I’m convinced we are not sufficiently clear about the difference between fear, vulnerability, and courage.

Here’s my $.02:

  • Fear is about recognizing you have a challenge. You’re nervous about it. You can create a way to manage those risks. You use your emotional resilience to work through the fear.
  • Vulnerability is about feeling concern, or in BrenĂ© Brown’s words, shame, about a potential problem. The feelings prevent you from easily managing risks.
  • Courage is about using either your fear or vulnerability to take a step forward. You recognize when you have FEAR (Fear Expressed as Reality.) You use courage to recognize your fear and move ahead.

(BTW, If you don’t like these definitions, please do comment.)

I suspect that most of us suffer from fear and vulnerability more often than we like. That’s why we experience shame about the fear and vulnerability.

The more we fear, the more vulnerability we feel. The more vulnerable we feel, the more fear we feel. It’s a vicious feedback loop.

We need to find enough courage to move past the fear and vulnerability—even if it’s just for us to take one small step—so we can break that cycle.

Here are ideas that have worked for me to build my courage to take that first step:

  • Ask where I might fail. (Yes, I go to the worst thing first.)
  • Ask where I might succeed.
  • Ask where I might go sideways.

The sideways answer often surprises me. That’s because I tend to think differently about sideways.

Success or failure seem straightforward to me. Sideways requires I change my mental models, or use different patterns. The post I linked to explains the MOIJ model: motivation, organization, information, jiggle. Maybe it’s the jiggling that makes me think about sideways.

I don’t seem to be able to avoid feeling fear or vulnerability. Those two feelings are part of my human condition. I suspect they are also part of yours.

And, when I think about how to use my courage, sometimes I need a jiggle. That’s the sideways thinking—a jiggle.

The question this week is: How can you use your fear and vulnerability to create courage?

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