Vulnerability (in the Workplace) in the Time of a Pandemic

In mid-February, I made a note to myself – a yellow post-it stuck to the bottom of my computer monitor – to write a blog post about vulnerability as it applies to our professional lives in the world of museums.  Vulnerability is something I strive for in my personal life because I know it can lead to better, more authentic relationships.  For that reason, I believe it has resonance for our professional lives in museum work too.

A yellow post-it note stuck to the bottom of a computer monitor. The post-it note lists four terms: "uncertainty, vulnerability, coronavirus, blog post."
Stephanie’s post-it note

You don’t hear a lot about vulnerability in the workplace though.  Vulnerability is often wrongly associated with weakness, and let’s face it, who wants to appear weak in our professional lives?  Reconciling the two—vulnerability in my personal life and my professional life—is still something I am not sure about.  So that post-it note with the words “vulnerability” and “blog post” sat the bottom of my computer monitor, both tempting and repelling me.

Of course, I had no idea what was coming when I wrote the post-it note.  In early March, as the COVID-19 pandemic grew, particularly encroaching on my home near New York City, I added the words “uncertainty” and “coronavirus” to my post-it note, and it beckoned me more strongly.  Now two weeks later—with museums and schools closed— my uncertainty, and that of my team and clients, has only intensified.

Pre-pandemic, I had been thinking about how vulnerability in my professional life is wrapped up in how we learn.  At the end of 2019, I wrote a blog post about the discomfort that comes with learning as we enter the space between not knowing something and knowing something.  If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and admit that we are uncertain or don’t know something, we can also access our curiosity, which can lead to creativity and problem solving and serve as a bridge between not knowing and knowing.

When I wrote that, however, I was referring to everyday run-of-the-mill uncertainty—not this gut-wrenching uncertainty about the futures we are all facing right now in the midst of COVID-19.  I suspect our workplaces will never be the same again.  The way we think about our work and our colleagues in this moment—this fear and anticipation—may linger with us.  I am still grappling with what vulnerability means for our professional world.  But at least in this moment, I hope allowing for vulnerability will enable us to face these very real feelings in our workplace and open us up to one another with compassion, kindness, and curiosity.

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