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Courage in Vulnerability

A few weeks ago, I drove five hours with five other students from my University to the middle of nowhere in Illinois to attend the LeaderShape Institute. LeaderShape aims to create a just, caring, and thriving world by teaching participants to lead with integrity and a healthy disregard for the impossible.

Before arriving, I didn’t know how to feel. I was obviously excited to have this opportunity to grow. But I also felt pressured. All of my friends who had gone LOVED it. And I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t walk away as life-changed?”

Spoiler Alert: I ended up loving it, and walked away with so many new ideas to bring to campus, and so many ways to apply what I learned to my life to continue growing as a leader.

Let me tell you a short story about one very important lesson that I learned which honestly, has already had such a tremendous impact on my life. (It has only been two months, but bear with me).

At Institute, every participant is tasked with creating a vision. A vision for how they want to see the world change for the better. I had many ideas for how I want to see a better world, but I decided to focus on the area I want to work in: Education.

I was not sure what exactly I wanted to see, though. This ended with my vision being too broad, and me being not proud of it. I did not know how to narrow it down, so I couldn’t really participate fully in the following activities. I felt really bad. I felt I wasn’t trying hard enough. I felt that this experience was going to be a whole waste.

"When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning into our lives."

So, in typical Tom fashion, I sulked for over a day. While everyone else was expanding and discussing their vision, I remained quiet. This, coupled with that I was being excluded by people I was there with, just made me very sad.

A member of my family cluster (what we call our small groups) came over, she knew something was wrong. She asked if I was okay.

I am typically not one to share when something is wrong. I’m not a vulnerable person. I tend to be stubborn, and wanting to come off as put together and in charge. I do not want to come off as weak.

However, this time was different. I told her everything. I told her about how my vision was worthless, about how I was wasting my time, and about how I felt sad. I felt like a hot mess.

Here’s the thing, though: it felt good. Here is the lesson I’ve been trying to get to: there is power in vulnerability.

Being vulnerable doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning into our lives. It allows us to make connections with others that we didn’t know possible.

As leaders, we sometimes tend to think that we need to be perfect, and come off as strong people who have all the answers. However, we all have aspects that we are afraid to share, so we check them at the door. We numb ourselves to fit a mold that has been deemed desirable.

I believe to demonstrate leadership and excite followers, you need to have the courage to show yourself. That is how we should look at being vulnerable: as a courageous process. Only then can you be a true leader, because you are accepting your strengths and your weaknesses, as well as taking accountability for them. I have already noticed myself being more vulnerable with my friends, my coworkers, and in my organizations.

Recently, I shared with a good friend and fraternity brother that I had serious thoughts of dropping my membership in the fraternity and leaving. Turns out, he has had similar thoughts and opinions. He would have been the last person I would think would leave our fraternity, but we talked through it, and we both figured out what to do next, which did not include leaving. For those of you who aren't familiar with Greek life, not only is this rare, it is a BIG deal.

That connection would never have happened had I not been vulnerable.

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Tom Scearce is a senior Public Relations and Marketing major at Drake University. He is involved on campus with the Interfraternity Council as the Vice President of Programming, the Student Activities Board as the Marketing Executive Officer, and is a Resident Assistant. After he graduates, he plans to pursue his Master’s Degree and work in Student Affairs and Higher Education.