Caretaking: an act of courage and vulnerability
Updated: Apr 26
In Brene Brown’s famous TED Talk of June 2010, which currently has been viewed 53 million times, she confessed to running into a wall in her vulnerability research. In her TED talk she relates a session with her therapist where she confides, “Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle with worthiness, but it appears that it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, and of love.” She continues to humorously expound on this and ends the TED talk with the statement, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”(1) I have listened to this talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability” several times and each time this hits me in the chest: Vulnerability is the seat of joy, creativity, belonging, and love. How remarkable and how scary.
Brene’s study of vulnerability echoed a famous speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in 1910 which states,
“…who at the best know in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”(2)
This image of failing while daring greatly is a picture of the vulnerability that accompanies acts of courage. In Dare to Lead, Brene` attempts to dispel the myth that vulnerability equals weakness. Inquiring of a room full of military special forces soldiers she got this response from them, “there is not one person (that) has been able to give me an example of courage without vulnerability”.(3) I agree. After reflecting, I am convinced that caretaking requires this same kind of courage...and vulnerability.
I am a caretaker. Twenty years ago, I stepped away from formal, paid work and made the choice to care for my children full time. I count this as a huge blessing. Yet, when I think back, I now realize that in making that choice I became vulnerable. By turning my back on income, work relationships, networking opportunities, and status. For instance, I remember when I had three small children we were invited to dinner with neighbors and the dinner conversation was very current and stimulating. Everyone present worked in the medical field and I remember distinctly feeling invisible. I had been home with three small children for a few years and could think of nothing to discuss that did not relate to diapers, grocery shopping, parks, swim lessons or strollers. I felt exposed and vulnerable.
My children are now grown, but I am a still caretaking. I am the primary caretaker for my mother who suffers from severe health issues. While I lament her suffering, I consider my ability to devote time and energy to her a gift straight from God. But I know many caretakers facing situations like just like mine -caring for an ill spouse, an elderly parent, a sick child, babies- and I am seeing for the first time that they are courageous, as well as vulnerable. Each time a caretaker steps away from work, relationships, commitments, and leisure activities to care for another, their vulnerability can increase. For instance, their work status might diminish as they decrease work hours, their friendships might languish as they neglect social time and their ability to travel freely limits how they enjoy leisure time and healthy relaxation. Each of these is cause for vulnerability in its own way. This is why I am convinced that caretaking is an act of courage and courageous acts can include making oneself vulnerable. Those who step into a role of caretaking, while foregoing the things that make life a bit more secure, enjoyable and full, are taking steps of courage. In essence they are becoming vulnerable and in doing so they are stepping into the very opportunities that vulnerability can offer: joy, creativity, belonging and especially love.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." -Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
(1) Brown, Brene’. (June, 2010). The Power of Vulnerability. https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability/transcript?language=en#t-1214205
(2) Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
(3) Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead. New York, NY: Random House. P.24.