My work focuses on, among other things, the importance of authenticity. Because of this, I’m constantly in situations where I’m talking about, encouraging, and seeing the positive impact of vulnerability.
Most of my speaking engagements are for people, leaders, and teams within organizations of various sizes and in different industries. However, from time to time, I do get the opportunity to speak to athletes, which I love. I played baseball in college and then professionally for a few years before injuries ended my career.
A number of years ago I was invited to speak to a group of minor baseball players and coaches at spring training, which is an exciting and often stressful time for everyone involved.
I spoke to them about how they could effectively deal with the pressure of the sport and how they could handle the mental and emotional ups and downs of playing baseball in a healthy and productive way.
My talk went well and seemed to resonate with the guys. After I spoke, a number of the players came up to talk to me. During our conversations, many of them mentioned an interesting way their coaches introduced themselves to their players the day before.
Instead of introducing themselves by giving their résumés, the coaches each told a personal story about a meaningful moment they’d had when they were players themselves.
How One Story Can Teach Us All to Be Vulnerable
One of the coaches, named Alan, blew everyone away with his story.
He got up and said, “I played for ten years in AAA, without a single day in the major leagues.”
No one plays in AAA (which is the highest level of the minor leagues) for ten years. If you get that high up and hang around for a while, you either make it up to the big leagues, or you walk away from the game. It’s very uncommon and actually quite difficult to spend that much time at that level of the minors.
Alan went on to explain that toward the tenth season in AAA, he had made peace with the fact that he wasn’t going to make it to the major leagues. He decided to retire.
Upon making his decision, Alan called his dad and asked him if he could come see him play one last time.
The Final Game
His dad got to the game, and Alan was determined to play well. In the second inning, his manager removed him from the game after he grounded out in his first at bat.
This only happens if a player isn’t hustling, does something stupid, or is hurt. But Alan wasn’t hurt. He did hustle on the play. And he hadn’t done anything stupid to warrant being taken out of the game that early.
Alan was upset and disappointed. How could his manager show him up like that, in front of his father? He sat on the bench as far away from his manager as he could.
Eventually, his manager walked to the end of the bench and got in Alan’s face. “Do you want to know why I took you out of the game?” he asked. “Yes sir, I didn’t appreciate that…you showed me up in front of my father,” Alan replied harshly.
His manager said, “I took you out of the game…because you just got called up to the major leagues.”
The next thing he knew, Alan looked up and all 25 guys on his team had gathered around him in the dugout to give him hugs and high fives.
His teammates knew how long Alan had waited, how hard he had worked, and how much it had meant to him. The celebration went on so long in the dugout, they actually had to stop the game.
As amazing as this story is, the most incredible part is that when Alan told it to a roomful of 150 Minor League Baseball players, he broke down and cried in front of all of them.
That never happens. And a few days later, dozens of those players were coming up to talk to me about it because it had a huge impact on them.
The Power of Being Vulnerable
That’s how powerful it is when we have the courage to be vulnerable — when we let people see who we really are and how we really feel.
Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness. In fact, vulnerability is one of the most accurate measures of courage.
Unfortunately, all too often we relate to vulnerability—especially in certain environments, relationships, and situations—as something we should avoid at all costs. However, it’s vulnerability that liberates us from our erroneous and insatiable obsession with trying to do everything “right.”
All too often we think we can’t make mistakes, have flaws, or be human. But that’s simply not true.
Being vulnerable allows us to let go of the pressure-filled, stress-inducing perfection demands we place on ourselves.
In addition to our own liberation, when we’re vulnerable we give other people permission to be vulnerable as well, and in doing so, we open up the possibility of real human connection and the opportunity to impact people in a profound way, which is what most of us truly want in life.
How easy or difficult do you find it to be vulnerable yourself? What do you do to have the courage to be vulnerable in your life? What questions or suggestions do you have about this? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.
This is an excerpt from my book Nothing Changes Until You Do, with permission. Published by Hay House (May, 2015 in paperback) and available online or in bookstores.
This article was published in 2015 and updated for 2023.