A Note on Vulnerability and Success

What is It?: Fear of failure causes many people to abandon opportunities that can bring success. In her TedTalk, Brene Brown says that it’s that fear of failure and shame that causes people to feel vulnerable, making them risk averse and paralyzing them into inaction. Brown says that you must believe in yourself and “have the courage to be imperfect” and accept vulnerability. Brown says that you must “believe you are enough”, which will allow you to accept vulnerability, take risks, and reap the rewards. But does success come from simply accepting vulnerability or from having confidence that you can handle any situation due to intense preparation, craving high-pressure situations, and seeking continual improvement.

My Experiences Overcoming Vulnerability: When I was 13, my swim club got a new coach. He was in the Naval community knew I wanted to go into, even as young as I was. When I told him I wanted to join his community, he asked, “Are you sure this is what you want? Because if it is, I’ll make sure you’re ready”. Coming early to lead team stretching, putting out at every practice, and staying late to make sure the pool deck was clean became the expectation; great performance was now average. Anything less eIMG_0463.JPGarned me remediation, even when my performance still exceeded any one else’s on the team. It’s a humbling experience being chewed out in front of your friends, especially when you’re one of the few people it happens to on a regular basis and when you’re supposed to be leading them as a team captain. Was it unfair? Absolutely not, I had a higher goal, and when I failed to meet the standards that would allow me to accomplish my goal, I was given a reality check.

Failure: I had some rough days while swimming for that coach, but he is by far the most influential person in my life, and I still use him as resource in preparation for my career in the Navy. He showed me “failure” on a regular basis, and how to learn from it to come back stronger so that it never became true failure. All “failures” are just setbacks, and if you’re truly dedicated to your goal, you’ll find a way to accomplish it. As said by Tim Grover in his book Relentless, “Failure is what happens when you decide you failed. Until then, you’re still always looking for ways to get to where you want to be”.

The Setbacks: Right now I’ve got a stress fracture (I haven’t been able to run or do weighted hikes for the past 3 months with 2 months of recovery to go), and I’ve also been assigned to plan a drill meet (this will require about 250 hours of work). All of this right before I take a physical screener to see if I’ll get the opportunity to be part of the community in the Navy I want to join. My career and everything I’ve worked for since I was 13 is dependent on a fitness test that I’m not able to optimally train for. While I didn’t choose to get a stress fracture or plan the drill, I still need to accept responsibility for my circumstances and continue to do what it takes to succeed.

Being a Cleaner and Extreme Ownership: Tim Grover is the founder of Attack Athletics and author of Relentless. In his book, Grover differentiates between Coolers, Closers, and Cleaners and defines what it means to be a Cleaner. A Cleaner is someone who reacts with instinct, craves high-pressure situations, and seeks continual improvement. A Cleaner also accepts responsibility for everything in his or her world and lives by “Extreme Ownership”. I had these mindset instilled in me from an early age and continually reinforced throughout my life, I put in the work and because I put in the work, I trust myself to perform even when it seems like things are falling apart. Living with vulnerability isn’t about accepting the fear of failure; it’s about taking ownership over your current life situation and being committed enough to your goals and wants so that nothing stands in your way.


2 thoughts on “A Note on Vulnerability and Success

  1. CJ,

    I think it is really impressive to hear from someone who is as goal driven as yourself. Even though you are experiencing a difficult circumstance, you are mentally tough enough to not become overwhelmed and stay on course to complete the task at hand. Also, thank you for sharing the article about what it means to be a cleaner. I found some very helpful advice. Thank you for sharing.

    – Andrew Doan

  2. Hi CJ, thanks for explaining your interesting experience with your coach. I think its really admirable of you to understand that your coach was setting a higher standard for you simply because you had a higher goal to achieve than most. it must have been tough to constantly be ridiculed, but I’m sure in the long run you will be able to see it as a useful motivation technique.

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