Why Vulnerability is a Strength.

Recently, I shared a post on Facebook and Twitter that began, “Guess what Miss Brilliant just did?” The picture showed my kitchen after I brewed a whole pot of coffee without the carafe in place, causing a small flood that soaked through to the basement.

Vulnerability: Messy kitchen with spilled coffee
My messy kitchen after a coffee flood

Two of my favorite comments from friends were “You are wonderful,” and “I love you.” And there were many comments to the effect of “I’m glad I’m not the only one who does stuff like that.”

It struck me how much people relate to each other’s vulnerability. How much, even, they crave it.

The definition of vulnerability

Merriam-Webster defines vulnerability as:

: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
: open to attack or damage; vulnerable to criticism

How can that be a strength? And yet, Brene Brown—you may have heard of her?—said this about vulnerability:

Vulnerability is at the core, the center, of meaningful human experiences.

Vulnerability is inevitable.

Vulnerability is inevitable–no one and no life is perfect. But it’s the act of sharing our vulnerability that keeps us humble. If all I ever wrote and talked about was what I did well, my successes, what’s going right in my life, how could I possibly retain a sense of humility? How could I not start to think I was better than others? How could anyone possibly relate to me, and why would they want to?

Brene Brown achieved astronomical success through her research and insight on vulnerability, shame, imperfection, and other frailties of the human condition. But I wonder—how does one retain a sense of humility when fame and fortune of that magnitude come calling?

By making a conscious decision. Because owning our vulnerability and retaining humility are choices.

Humility is a choice.

Early in the coronavirus, my dad sent me this link about the Washington State lieutenant governor who left office to pursue the Priesthood.

The New York Times reported that Cyrus Habib, a political rising star, said “he could feel himself being sucked into a ‘celebrity culture’ in American politics that had nothing to do with public service. He could feel himself being swallowed by pride,” so he walked away before that happened.

A politician choosing humility over ego? How was that not splashed all over the headlines?

I was so impressed with Habib’s story, I planned to write about it, but then the coronavirus took over our lives, and it took our lives, and then racism took George Floyd’s life, and those events seemed so much more important than writing about vulnerability, humility, and ego. (Although I believe ego is at the root of both our pandemic fiasco and systemic racism, I’ll save that for another post.)

Then an ego-boosting thing happened to me and I realized the universe had given me an excuse to tie the threads together.

Tying the threads together.

Last year, I had a Tiny Love Story–My Son, the Homeowner–published in the Modern Love section of the New York Times. (If you click on the link, scroll down to the 4th story.) It was a thrill, but I kept my ego in check, as it was only 100 words, not a full-blown personal essay. Yes, it was the New York Times, but my words were a blip.

Out of the blue last week, I got this email from an editor at the Times:

I write with exciting news from Modern Love: We have partnered with Artisan Press to publish a book of Tiny Love Stories. Of the hundreds of Tiny Love Stories we have published, we plan to include roughly half of them in the book, including yours. It will be in bookstores late in 2020 and is available for pre-order online.

“Including yours.” Including mine.

Whoa, ego. Fame and fortune haven’t found you yet. It’s still just 100 words. It’s not like it’s a best-selling memoir.

The gist of my memoir—that I’m a people-pleaser, that the compulsion to keep the peace at all costs prevented me from advocating for my son in his hour and months and years of need—keeps a lid on my ego.

It’s not a premise to brag about. It’s not something to be proud of. When someone asks, “What’s your book about?” a part of me cringes.

But I tell my story because I believe my vulnerability will be someone else’s grace. I believe others will see themselves in me, in my timidity, my fear of conflict, my self-doubt, and the recognition will open them to personal growth.

My vulnerability may be your grace.

Will my story achieve astronomical success? Will my memoir become a best-seller? Unlikely. I may never know if I can maintain humility when fame and fortune come calling. But that’s not the point.

Vulnerability…[is] having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.

~ Brene Brown.

The point for me is to continue on the journey, even without knowing where I’ll end up. On the way, I’ll continue to tell you of coffee floods, and buying the wrong milk, and my people-pleasing backfiring, and other silly and not-so-silly trials of life.

It will connect me to you and you to me and remind us both to keep our egos in check. Brilliant, don’t you think?



  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

    View all posts


  1. Vicki Nelson on July 8, 2020 at 12:15 PM

    Karen, not only are you an amazing writer, you are humble and vulnerable in all you say. Your words have brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of all the days I refused to let people in, to see my vulnerabilities and all my flaws. Thank you, Karen, for reminding me to be me, to let others see who I am, and that it is the best way to be.

    • Karen DeBonis on July 8, 2020 at 7:29 PM

      It’s not easy to open up, Vicki, so be gentle with your previous resistance. I was the same way (still am often, but I’m a work in progress.) And thanks so much for your beautiful words. I’m so glad I touched you.

  2. Gail Boenning on July 8, 2020 at 1:40 PM

    Such an insightful discussion of vulnerability and humility. Thank you Karen. I’d not heard about Habib. I honor and respect his decision. I also wonder how our world might be different if leaders felt they could show vulnerability–if politics was not like celebrity culture.

    I think I read in Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks that being a monk was not so difficult while in an environment of restraint….the real challenge was to hold onto “monk values” in a secular culture.

    Coffee maker without carafe…I can totally see myself doing that! :)

    • Karen DeBonis on July 8, 2020 at 7:31 PM

      Our world would look completely different, I think, if politics weren’t a celebrity culture. Do ya think we’ll ever get there? Business Secrets sounds interesting. I can completely understand their challenges in a secular world.

  3. Subrata Mukherjee on August 3, 2020 at 10:49 PM

    Wonderful 👍

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.