Putting yourself out there is scary, it is vulnerable in its own right. Putting yourself out there and then asking people what they think about it is fifteen million times more vulnerable. When the answers come back that you should hide the your truth, it is devastating to the spirit, the spirit that has wobbly stepped out into the light to help a community, take a stand, make a change.
I’m part of a book launch team for an amazing book Imperfect Courage coming out in August and I am writing this blog post after reading the chapter on embracing vulnerability. There’s been a lot of vulnerability happening in my life over the last 12 months. To quote the book’s author, Jessica Honegger- “We show up and let ourselves be seen (vulnerability), and that, when we muster the courage to do that, we feel that we are heard (empathy). Notice something about this equation? It involves other people, right?” You know what will break you in half? Being vulnerable and having someone be apathetic, especially when you’ve invested something in that person.
About a year ago I was running a business where I was doing something I loved- having an influence on women in my relational sphere. I hoped that what I was creating was improving lives and making connections. It is fair to say that it wasn’t perfect. It was new and unknown and I was continually trying to improve the experience for all involved. So in order to make improvements in an un-biased, non-emotional way, I deployed a survey. In this survey I left some questions open-ended as to get more feedback. And it was all anonymous. And guess what? When you do that some people will totally give you their two cents. These insights are great when you can see consistency and its something that can be improved in a business aspect, it is devastating when they are personal.
One respondent decided that I was to be the brunt of a general question of “what can we improve?” It turned into a “What can Tina improve?” response. Where I knew I was far from perfect, I was hoping I was providing an adequate boutique experience for clients. Yes, I provided a different experience but I was building a place that I too, could fit it, with my flaws, and strengths, and desires. In hind-sight, maybe that business genre is not a place where you can let your flaws be seen, especially when you are the leader.
The hardest part to swallow was when someone asked me to fake it, to hide my daily struggles, to project this strong positive posture. I couldn’t be the struggling one, the one who needed connection and support. No, I needed to be the one who pushed through no matter what. I had no feelings other than positive motivation. And sure, fine, that works in some settings, but that wasn’t the setting I was trying to create. I was trying to create a place where vulnerability was accepted, championed even.
I’m not sure why I was asked to hide myself my personality, my daily struggles, my life. Maybe because my truth may have made their truth more real or less hidden. Or maybe because it made people uncomfortable. Or maybe because they had never had to experience a situation such as mine and couldn’t relate. I am not one of those people who wants to see perfection, I would rather see reality in all its messiness, to know I am not the only one going through hardships.
The chapter ends with “This is the power of vulnerability and empathy, my friend. The “me too” when we are brave enough to invite vulnerability in? It heals us every time.” When I finally left and found a place where vulnerability was accepted, where people were empathic, and where my flaws as a wife, mother, woman, human were embraced rather than looked as something to be covered up, I did begin to heal. I still fall into a place of wanting to isolate sometimes because that is easier. But it does not heal, it only sends me further down a hole I loathe to be in. So today, I invite you to show empathy to someone you might not usually- a coworker, a spouse, a neighbor, the grocery store clerk, the barista, the receptionist. Someone who might need a little bit of understanding rather than hurried judgement. And I hope you both are restored in some way.
With honesty and kindness,