The Vulnerability Can Be A Great Teacher Approach

Vulnerability can sometimes help us to learn about what is important in life. Sometimes wisdom seeps into our bones and we apply the lessons in our lives. Other times we forget the messages.

Can you think of a time when you felt vulnerable? You may have had an illness, lost someone close, suffered an unexpected setback or experienced another difficulty.

Suddenly you felt out of control. You felt unable to shape everything in your world. Certainly you aimed to control the controllables, but many levers lay beyond your reach.

What did you do next? After a while you may have begun to reflect, go deeper and listen to your soul. We are sometimes told:

“Everything is temporary, nothing is permanent.”

It is when we feel vulnerable that this lesson hits home. We have the chance to consider what is important in our lives and work.

Brené Brown believes that people often grow from worthwhile struggles. She has written about how such people live wholeheartedly in her book Daring Greatly.

Here are some quotes from Brené about people who dare to be human and show courage.

“We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.”

“The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”

“The only thing I know for sure is that if you’re going to dare greatly, you’re going to get your ass kicked at some point. If you choose courage, you will absolutely know failure, disappointment, setback, even heartbreak. That’s why we call it courage. That’s why it’s so rare.”

Different people learn different lessons from their vulnerable times. Some clarify their deepest values, translate these into a clear vision and aim to achieve visible results. Let’s explore these themes.


Sometimes we learn a lot during challenging times. Sometimes we also apply these lessons in the future. Here is how one person explained this approach.

“My wife suffered a serious illness. Then, to make matters worse, my job came under threat. So our income was threatened.

“My first reaction was to simply want everything to be like it was before. But then I realised that things had changed forever. We could give up or learn to manage the new reality.

“Starting to research my wife’s illness, we scoured the web for information and met with patient groups. This paid dividends. She eventually chose a specific form of treatment with a fine doctor.

“We also took stock of our assets – our finances, relationships, professional contacts and other resources. We soon realised how wealthy we were in real terms.

“We explored the possibility of downshifting. This would mean moving to another part of the country, perhaps near my wife’s parents, and starting a different kind of life.

“My wife recovered and the job survived. But we also heeded the lessons.

“One year later we moved closer to her parents. She returned to part time teaching, which she loves, and I set up my own business.

“Our daughter likes living in the country and has started doing part time work at a stable. Our son changed his chosen subjects at university. Rediscovering his youthful idealism, he plans to become an environmental journalist.”

Some organisations also take the opportunity to do some soul searching during difficult times. During Covid, for example, some decided to return to their core values. They then used these as a basis for shaping a successful and sustainable future.

Values can be a useful guiding compass for individuals, organisations and societies. But then comes the real part – translating these values into action. This often calls for exploring the next stage.


Looking back, when have you chosen to follow a certain value and translate this into working towards a clear vision?

Some people make key decisions after experiencing difficulties. A person who is treated unjustly may choose to study law and help other people. A footballer who suffers a career ending injury may choose to become a coach.

J.K. Rowling described how she took this approach when addressing students at Harvard about The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.

Deep into the address she talks about how, after leaving university, she could be seen as a failure. Instead of studying a degree that might lead to a well-paid job, she had studied classics. She had little money and her marriage had broken.

J.K. had some great assets. In addition to having some wonderful friends, she mentioned three things. She had:

“A daughter I adored … An old typewriter … And a big idea.”

She then worked towards her vision of producing the books about Harry Potter.

Visible Results

Our deepest learning is in our bones not just our hearts or minds. Some people then choose to follow their values, work towards a vision and produce visible results.

Sometimes they produce obvious results. They may do their best to create a happy family, help students to learn or work to pass a law that enables people to shape their futures. They may produce a play, design a building or do something else that gives people pleasure.

Sometimes the results they produce are less obvious but may become visible in other ways. They may help people to develop their self-confidence, create enriching experiences or give people positive memories for life.

Let’s look at another approach that can help people to make the most of life.

The Reprieve Approach

We are told that near death experiences focus the mind. This can also be the case when experiencing some kind of reprieve. Different people behave in different ways after having such an experiences. Some go through the following stages.

They have a sense of relief;

They reflect on what is important in life;

They revitalise themselves and make the most of the reprieve.

Imagine that you have had a health scare and are awaiting the results of a blood test. This can be an anxious time and many potential scenarios may go through your head. The blood test comes back and the doctor says:

“Everything is normal. You can get on with living your life.”

This can lead to a feeling of relief followed by a period of reflection. Looking ahead, you may focus on what is really important in life. You may also do things to revitalise yourself and enjoy life.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you experienced some kind of reprieve? What did you learn from the experience? How did you try to apply these lessons in your life? What happened as a result?

Different people experience different reprieves in their personal or professional lives. They may recover from an illness, be forgiven for a mistake, get a second chance or come through an existential challenge.

Some people then choose to reflect and revitalise their lives. They may do this through exploring the following questions.

“What have I learned from the experience? What have I learned about what is important in life? How can I focus on these things in the future?”

Some people recognise their mortality and see every day as a bonus. They may aim to develop a sense of gratitude, appreciate life and help other people. They may also aim to pass on a positive legacy.

We all like to feel in control and create as much predictability as possible. We also recognise that this can be an illusion, however, so it can be useful to anticipate challenges.

Different people mention different things when exploring how to manage future challenges and vulnerabilities. Here are some of the topics they consider.

How to take care of my health as I get older … How to earn a living if my present work is replaced by technology … How to deal with sorrow after certain life events … How to enjoy each day that we are alive.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you may feel vulnerable? How can you then do your best to – as far as possible – manage it in a positive way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

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