Feeling vulnerable?

Nov 20, 2015 by Mark Greenlaw


Although many of you saw the redesigned FIRST website for the first time earlier this week, on September 9, we launched a beta version to a group of about 300 members of the FIRST Community. It was the first public unveiling of a project that a group of us had worked on for the last nine months. I happened to be at a conference in Boston that morning, and while I found myself uncharacteristically agitated thinking about the launch of the new site, I could not put my finger on why.

Then, I had the privilege of listening to the morning’s keynote speech given by University of Houston researcher, Dr. Brene Brown. Her amazing talk gave me the answer to why I was so agitated:  I was feeling vulnerable.

The new website was the first large, mission-critical, and complex project I had led since joining FIRST 18 months ago. A large group of staff members had put many, many hours into building this new site, and now it was out there for public critique. I knew that many would love it … but, inevitably, some wouldn’t. It was our baby, and to us, it was beautiful. But what if people thought our baby was ugly? I felt vulnerable. And that made me uncomfortable.

Dr. Brown says profoundly, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before. There is nothing more vulnerable than that.”

Those of us creating or building things—whether it’s a website, a robot, a painting, or a something completely new—must realize we will naturally feel vulnerable. But if we are not willing to put ourselves out there, to be vulnerable, we will never create anything; we will never innovate, and we will never make a difference in the world or in the lives of those around us.

Dr. Brown went on to discuss the fact that when we do put ourselves out there and try to do something new, there will be times that we fail. She shared the famous “man in the arena” quote, attributed to Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

We believe one of the most powerful attributes of FIRST is that students have the opportunity to fail, and then to work hard to overcome their failures. This can be a powerful learning experience, and builds grit, perseverance, and confidence. Only then can we reflect on our failure, extract our lessons learned, and begin readying ourselves for our next great project—a project that just may change the world.

You can view Dr. Brene Brown’s inspiring Ted Talks:



If you have an inspiring story or piece of wisdom that you’ve picked up through your experiences in the FIRST community, please reach out to us at inspire@firstinspires.org and inquire about becoming a guest contributor for Inspire.


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