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Finding Courage Through Vulnerability

Submitted by Lori Conlan January 31, 2022

The pandemic has brought with it numerous hours to fill with some otherwise atypical activities. Admittedly, I’ve found myself turning to streaming series/shows far too often. It has certainly served as distraction and respite from other challenges, but it also allowed me time to catch up on desired viewing. Brené Brown’s The Call to Courage video on Netflix was at the top of my list. (Full disclosure, the video has lots of storytelling at the beginning and research findings shared near the end). Dr. Brown is a social work researcher focusing on topics of courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame from the University of Houston. I was familiar with her work and had heard her speak on a podcast previously, which I found helpful. In this video, Dr. Brown speaks about vulnerability and suggests that without this we cannot be authentic to ourselves or others. Is it possible that avoiding vulnerability limits our personal and professional growth?

Perhaps you can think of a time when you felt vulnerable - applying for jobs, interviewing for positions, starting in a new lab, applying to graduate programs, submitting grants or manuscripts for review, or sharing your research at a science meeting or departmental event. Scary, isn’t it?

I often hear from trainees making decisions that are consistent with familiar and comfortable paths in their lives. I wonder if doing so sometimes limits creativity, opportunity, and even joy. By necessity, we have distanced and isolated to limit exposure and remain safe over the past two years, but the downside, at least for me, is that my world has gotten significantly smaller. I haven’t traveled beyond a neighboring state. There are many friends and work colleagues who I have not seen (certainly not in person) or talked to in nearly two years, and social activities have dwindled. Like many of you, I focused on the people and tasks that were easy to identify and most important to me. Not a bad strategy, especially given the circumstances. Reflecting further on Dr. Brown’s talk, it occurred to me that there may be ways to be courageous amid ongoing challenges we face in the pandemic.

For example, I could show courage and vulnerability in:

  • Learning new skills
  • Connecting with friends and family in different but meaningful ways
  • Finding excitement and adventure closer to home
  • Adopting an openness to altered dreams of what the future looks like
  • Accepting loss in a variety of forms

Consider how you, too, will draw on courage in the coming year. Challenge yourself to step outside the familiar and comfortable aspects of your life to embrace what may come.

Choose courage over comfort when:

  • Developing new relationships
  • Pursuing your dream job or fellowship
  • Interviewing for programs or positions
  • Communicating in the lab with your PI and other lab staff
  • Trying new food, hobbies, and activities

Dr. Brown would argue that we can’t be courageous without showing some vulnerability. I’m committed to finding ways to be more courageous day to day. I hope you will join me in doing the same.

For more information on Brené’ Brown’s work, check out

OITE Wellness Programs

OITE Becoming a Resilient Scientist Series

Guest Blogger: Denise Saunders, PhD: Career Counselor, OITE
Part of the “Voices of OITE” series.

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