Home Speech-Language Pathology Finding Strength in Vulnerability

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

by Kim Swon Lewis


Photo by pheezy

Perfectionism has a strong allure. At one time I thought it was an admirable vice, demonstrating a drive for excellence, but in the past decade I’ve realized that perfectionism is much less about Olympic-like performance and much more about guarding your vulnerabilities.

Like many women, once I had children, I had a good hard lesson in our inability to exert control over our lives. Oh, sure you can pack hand sanitizer in your purse, stick an umbrella in the car, keep chicken tenders in the freezer, but you’ll always miss something. Maybe you’ll send your son in to school with shaggy hair and an old tshirt on picture day, or suddenly realize that not only was your child due at a birthday party 30 min ago, but you don’t even have a gift.  So, now I’m a recovering perfectionist, looking to treat myself with the same compassion I would a friend and practicing taking bumps in the road in stride.

One of my summer reads was The Gifts of Imperfection by Berne Brown. Truth be told, it was on last summer’s reading list.  See how I’m making progress?  Brown spent years researching shame before turning to her own journey of wholehearted living and I liked her idea that imperfections are not inadequacies but “reminders that we are all in this together.”  Their gifts are courage, compassion and connection.

This particularly resonated with me in light of the welcome session at ASHA Schools 2012.  Jennifer Abrams presented “Hard Conversations” the practice of which does require a dose of courage. She doesn’t advocate confrontation for the sake of confrontation, but does encourage us to speak our minds, advocate for what needs to be accomplished, risk being outspoken and opinionated.

I think this is a particularly tough role for a school therapist. Frequently we feel a bit outside the usual school hierarchy, not quite as entrenched or comfortable as we would want to be, especially if we were going to make waves. Yet, sometimes this outsider status might give us a better perspective on changes that need to be made, or to advocate for students or families that aren’t getting the services they deserve.

Other times, this might mean advocating for ourselves, whether that means defining our role or (as recent #slpeeps conversations and other blogs have covered) asserting our “speech-language pathologist” title. It’s less important to be well liked and a perfect employee than it is to live up to the values that brought you to the profession in the first place.

At my house we have exceedingly hard glazed dinnerware that I specifically chose for its durability. A few years ago, one of the mugs was thwacked solidly against granite and suffered a chip on its lip. I moved it to the back of the cabinet and it was almost never used. Last winter, I purposely pulled it out as my afternoon tea mug and I use it most days. It’s a good reminder to me that even with a vulnerability the main purpose is still maintained. And as far as a gift of imperfection?  I can always tell which tea is mine.

Care to share? Let us know if you struggle with perfectionism or enjoy a more carefree attitude.


(This post originally appeared on Activity Tailor.)


Kim Lewis M.Ed, CCC-SLP has a private practice for pediatrics in Greensboro, NC. She is the blogger at www.activitytailor.com, providing creative ideas for speech therapy, and the author of the Artic Attack workbook series.

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Paula Stone,M.S.,C.C.C.-SLP August 21, 2012 - 5:01 pm

Once upon a time Perfectionism was the standard to complete an ASHA acredited program and to be awarded the Certificate of Clinical Competence. Mediocre or a couple of years of work experience was just not acceptable.

Kim August 21, 2012 - 5:23 pm

Paula, Striving to provide excellent clinical care should remain the standard, but for me, perfection is an unattainable goal. I truly delight in continuing to improve and evolve my practices, especially as research gives us new avenues to pursue in therapy. Kim

Jeanette W. Stickel August 21, 2012 - 6:24 pm

I love your post – it is almost perfect! (You may have to do something about that). I’m going to follow your example and pull out one of my chipped mugs for my next cup of tea. I have one with a broken handle but that might be too extreme. It does, however, make a lovely vase.

I had a less than perfect first week back to work and it caused a bit of embarrassment. If you are interested, I posted about it here: http://speakwellreadwell.blogspot.com/2012/08/slippers-slip-ups-and-toco-toucans.html

Kim August 21, 2012 - 7:42 pm

Jeanette, You’ve made my day–both with your kind words and your humorous post! I love to watch theater, though I’m not the drama type myself. That said, isn’t there something about problematic dress rehearsals making way for the best performances? Hope the rest of the year is award winning! Kim

Gina Griffiths August 21, 2012 - 8:40 pm

Great post Kim! You make a great distinction between striving for perfectionism versus striving for excellence. For me at any rate, the first comes from my egotistical side that wants to make sure others approve, and that I’ll be immune from scrutiny. The second is about connecting my actions to my values, which as you so nicely describe often takes a willingness to be vulnerable.

Kim August 22, 2012 - 10:38 am

Gina, Thank you so much! You are absolutely right, and have expressed the distinction beautifully. If you have a blog yourself, will you please add a link? You’ve given me more to mull this week; and I love to mull! Kim

Shirley Morganstein (@shirlsmor) August 22, 2012 - 11:40 am

I think we confront vulnerability in our practice daily. It is sometimes hard to look it straight in the eye. https://aphasia.posterous.com/49147640

Kim August 22, 2012 - 1:00 pm

Shirley, This gave me chills. We do confront vulnerability and I’d imagine in your area it’s particularly pronounced. I’m often humbled by parents who are willing to share their own vulnerabilities. Certainly something to keep in mind. Thank you! Kim

George Nickel,MS CCC-SLP August 22, 2012 - 5:06 pm

I am catching up on my reading list as well. I am reading my first digital book on my iPhone, very convenient. I love the swagger and honesty of Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential. He takes me on a journey outside my discipline to a different side of another art I like-cooking! And he shows in a very existential way that even in his chef world there is a great deal of crap to shovel as well as joys! My inner self has been marinated with a great deal of compassion, kindness and love which I try to share but at times I find myself a “chip off the old cup”. Mr. Bourdain reminds me of where I came from, the streets of NYC and that is an “attitude/characteristic” that mobilizes my swagger that other times is kept in check by my great appreciation of the teachings of kindness, compassion and love by the Dalia Lama.

Kim August 22, 2012 - 9:37 pm

One of my most favorite hobbies is cooking, and while I feel confident in my abilities I’m not sure I’d let Bourdain give me a critique (a little too much vulnerability there)! Thanks for your comments, they made me smile.

Dave G August 22, 2012 - 5:07 pm

This TED Talk compliments your piece quite well: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html?source=facebook&fb_source=message#.UDD01xofJsJ.facebook
Kim what a great post. I agree with Gina that a healthier focus, if not the only true focus, is excellence and not perfection; Attachment to the latter has been linked to mental-illness and the growing presence of Impaired Practioners in our field. In my experience, treating myself with kindness in the face of my imperfections, immersing myself in my weaknesses, really facing them with honesty, wholeheartedly, has made me a more effective me. If I can’t treat myself with the kindness needed to transcend my weaknesses then my results will always be limited when working with clients.

Kim August 22, 2012 - 9:38 pm

I’m so excited to check out this link since she brought up this talk in her book–thank you! Love your attitude. Kim

Melony August 22, 2012 - 7:46 pm

I loved this piece. I have recently been struggling with my oldest child not being the perfect kindergartener and how I failed as a parent (hence my perfectionist streak). This helps to put it into perspective. I have also been struggling with some of the decisions that have been made at my place of work. I have always been one to voice my opinion (in a professional manner) but not always voice it twice when needed. Thank you for the assurance that it is okay to be an adovocate for what you believe is right.

Kim August 22, 2012 - 9:34 pm

Melony, I’m touched by your words as a parent. I know how difficult it is to separate sometimes, though I never think the “nurture” is to blame when I work with parents! Best of luck with work. Fingers crossed they’ll start listening the first time 😉 Kim

Ann M. McCormick, M.S., CCC-SLP August 22, 2012 - 9:24 pm

Thanks for your post Kim! I have heard multiple references to Brene Brown this week, from completely different worlds. I heard her Ted Talk a while ago, and her words on being vulnerable have been working their way through my brain. I really appreciate how you link this to the – often uncomfortable – role we have to sometimes play in our school environments. I tend to be outspoken & then feel awkward – or shame – about it, so your words are encouraging. Timely too, as we head back next week.

Kim August 23, 2012 - 8:25 am

Synergy! I find that when I’m pondering ideas/changes I’m suddenly confronted with reminders everywhere. Glad I could provide one for you! Hope next week goes smoothly and you have a great year. Kim

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