The Story Economy Blog

This Has All Been an Exercise in Vulnerability

heart in windowEvery week, after I put the finishing touches on my newsletter and hit “Send Broadcast,” 1ShoppingCart takes me to a confirmation screen that asks if I’m sure I want to send the email to my entire contact list. Every week, I say yes. The click is easy (it’s just a click). The decision behind it often is not.

Over and over again, it’s a decision to be vulnerable. And that’s not a role I ever saw myself in.

When I sent my first newsletter on August 24, 2011, I had no idea what I would write about. My business coach told me I needed to build a list of clients and prospects, and then regularly stay in front of them with a newsletter. Really, I said? Ugh. What was I possibly going to write about, I wondered? Commas? (I do like punctuation, I admit.) SEO? How to write copy that converts? Double ugh. Everyone was already doing that. And it’s not really what I’m about.

In that first newsletter, I said: “My main function is to help you connect. In this newsletter, I’ll be bringing you actionable tips, musings, helpful resources, and special announcements.”

I was right about the deliverable (definitely about the musings). But there were two things I didn’t know: (1) that the main function would be helping ME feel connected; and, (2) that it would be the biggest vulnerability exercise of my life.

 Dare Greatly With Your Story

I’m way into Brene Brown this month. If you don’t know, Brene Brown is a vulnerability and shame researcher and storyteller. And her book, Daring Greatly (I’m halfway through) and her two TED talks on the same topic (start here, and then watch this one) are rockin’ me like a wagon wheel. Her central idea is that connection and meaning and love and creativity and innovation only happen when people dare to be vulnerable—to really open themselves up in courageous ways, with the knowledge they will quite possibly be judged and almost certainly fail spectacularly at some point. But that doing this—risking this humiliation and putting yourself out there—is the only way to truly connect. The only way to fight disconnection.

I agree 100 percent. I frame it all around “sharing your story”—and how that’s the antidote to disconnection. But it’s the exact same idea.

Digging into her ideas has made me reflect on my own vulnerability, and what I’ve been getting from stripping myself down in front of whoever wants to read what I write. Although I’m convinced I was born a writer, accepting vulnerability (as both a person and a writer) was a long process. I was very shy and guarded for a big chunk of my life. When I was in my 20s, I had a boyfriend tell me I was the most guarded person he knew.

I took it as a compliment.

But the older I got, the less I wanted to be that way. I had glimpses of wanting to shed the armor long before I actually did. In college, I’ll never forget the day an intro to literature professor wanted to use my paper about Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.” I walked in that morning, and he asked me to read it in front of the class. But I had laryngitis. (For real.) I remember that I actually did want to read it, because I didn’t want to be that person who was afraid to read something I wrote in front of others. But he knew I was shy (because I never spoke up in class), and he thought I was faking it. I couldn’t make him believe I wasn’t. I saw who I was getting cast as and I didn’t want to be that person.

It took at least another decade to really start un-hiding myself. And because of a series of things that happened—which we’ll just summarize as “life”—I got to the point a few years ago where hiding in my armor just started to seem really dumb. And not worth it anymore.

But something interesting happens when you shed armor and embrace vulnerability. I’m convinced everything in life relates to a Seinfeld episode. And the one where Jerry first lets out his anger, only to find that all of his emotions are let out (“What is this salty discharge coming from my eyes?”): well, to me, that’s what happens when you let vulnerability out in one area of your life. If you’re doing it for real, it starts coming out in every area of your life. And sometimes, that can shift the dynamics of your relationships in some pretty substantial ways. But if you’re true to the vulnerability, you find that you simply can’t go back to the armored car. (Even if it was comfortable for a long time.)

So, this is all a long-winded answer to the question: What do I get by sharing? What do I get by being professionally vulnerable? By sharing raw snippets of my life (which are usually even more raw in my head)?

In short, everything. But more specifically, business and great clients. Catharsis at times. Empathy other times. Answers to questions. Joy. Sadness. Inspiration. Energy. Conversations.

But mostly, connection.

Sharing the often scary and weird things in my head about life and business connects me to the world in a way I didn’t even know was possible.

I always knew I could write. I just had no idea that I could share.

And now I’m to the point where I am absolutely certain there is no moving forward without vulnerability. It’s as essential as a strategic marketing plan. And if you think you can (or should) stay above it, I think you’re kidding yourself.

So, my message this week is this: first, just go watch Brene Brown’s talks if you haven’t, because they are awesome. And secondly, spend some time thinking about your attitude toward vulnerability. You might unravel a little (I have threads hanging everywhere myself). But so what. You’ll weave them back together much more connected to others.


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