“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Brene Brown
Often, society labels vulnerability as the latter – a sign of weakness. A target. Individuals who are easy to attack.
As entrepreneurs, we are determined to be the best, the strongest, the most innovative of brands. These are noble pursuits. But what if, in the process, we forget to drop the curtain and acknowledge our fears? How often do we label uncertainty as a character flaw instead of a strength?
Vulnerability as an Entrepreneur
Research professor Brene Brown, simply defines vulnerability as, “emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty”, and claims that it is “our most accurate measurement of courage. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
As creators and innovators, our labor is directly related to vulnerability. Each day we put our work on the table, and leave ourselves exposed to critiques, criticisms, and praise. It’s a bold endeavor to present your ideas, and then prepare for either success or failure.
“To create is to make something that has never existed before. There is nothing more vulnerable than that.” – Brene Brown
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review reinforces Brown’s research and describes vulnerability as the defining trait of great entrepreneurs. The distinction is made between passive and active vulnerability — active vulnerability is “the contemplated risk that considers and hopes the payoff, financial or otherwise, will be worth it.”
Active vulnerability is about knowing the risks, but choosing to step forward anyhow. It’s about saying yes, despite the hesitations and concerns expressed by others. It’s about putting your money and your efforts where your passions are. Only when we embrace this trait are we truly ready to pursue our passions. And whether we succeed or fail, our journeys are the meat of great stories.
Vulnerability in Articulating Your Story
This summer, we talked about risking being seen in all of your glory: “Being seen in all of your glory means shouting from the rooftops who you are and what you represent.”
This doesn’t leave room for facades — it’s about being transparent in your values and mission, and exposing your story for the world to see.
Every good story has an arc, a challenge or obstacle that must be overcome. The struggle builds character, solidifies commitment, and humanizes. Go ahead—try to think of one good story that doesn’t have a hurdle—whether that is risk, fear, financial loss, personal tragedy, or strained relationships.
Last week, our team attended Nashville’s CHARGE Conference, where successful entrepreneurs shared their stories. But not just the “aha” moments, the big breaks, or lists of accomplishments. We heard about failed ventures, poor machinery, financial pitfalls, lapses in motivation, and just the overall stress of owning a company.
The humility of these entrepreneurs was not lost on the crowd – their stories were authentic and relatable. They didn’t claim to have all the answers, and that’s precisely what made us trust them. They were human, they encountered struggles, and they willingly shared the stories of their trials.
As brands, we should become accustomed to the same practice—being vulnerable in telling your story.
You may be the best or the most innovative. But it’s likely that you didn’t start out that way. Share that story. The unedited, unperfected tale of loss and failure and frustration. Give your audience a good story—one with an arc.
By articulating the imperfect and messy, you allow your audience to connect. Your brand becomes human.
Every client we work with has a compelling story – they just aren’t telling them well. They’re writing quality sales pitches, but the pitch has no heart. It doesn’t get to the “why”—why they should be trusted, why they’re passionate, or how they became the best.
Why aren’t they telling the whole story? Because exposure is intimidating and terrifying. It takes courage.
The word “courage” originates from the Latin term “cor,” which means “heart.” Courage, then, is about telling who you are, with your whole heart.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” – Brene Brown
Vulnerable entrepreneurship and storytelling isn’t weakness — it takes courage and heart. Let’s reclaim the notion that exposing the whole story and stepping into risky territory is a sign of inadequacy and frailty.
Don’t be afraid to get messy and show your scars. Give your audience opportunities to connect with your journey, to think to themselves, “me, too.”
Let vulnerability pave the way to authenticity, trust, and connection. Put it ALL on the table and be ALL in.