Several weeks ago in Budapest, I sat down with a stranger for coffee. Having heard my story through a mutual friend, she’d reached out and asked if we could meet. As usual with such a request, I said yes.
We talked about all sorts of things for a couple of hours, shared some stories, had a few laughs… but something felt amiss. Throughout our whole time together, I never felt like we really connected. It was only afterwards that I realized why: She never let her guard down.
She was a confident woman. She spoke well and had no problem looking me in the eye. She was cool, calm and collected. All in all, she appeared invulnerable… and that was the problem.
Because nobody’s invulnerable. We all have our weaknesses, our issues, our insecurities. When we hide them away, we’re hiding away a big part of ourselves. And even if it’s not obvious that we’re doing this, others will feel a little off in our presence. They may not know why, but they’ll have a hard time trusting us.
The upside of vulnerability
I find that most people open up to me when I open up to them first. I throw out something that I’m struggling with, or share some embarrassing story from my past, and they generally respond in kind (Budapest gal was a rare exception to this). I find that such shared vulnerability works wonders for building a genuine connection.
Here on the blog, I try to identify what scares me, and then I write about it. I felt vulnerable publishing pretty much every post linked from this page, but that’s how I knew those topics were worth writing about.
Same deal with the videos I post here. I was terrified of putting myself on camera at first (and sometimes I still am). I felt vulnerable (and sometimes I still do). But I pushed through and made myself do it anyway.
The result of doing these things, of being willing to appear vulnerable, has been overwhelmingly positive. I get regular emails from folks sharing some very personal challenges and asking for my advice. When I meet readers offline, they often comment that they feel they know me already thanks to my talking head on YouTube.
Sharing my vulnerabilities has led to some great connections and conversations.
Hearts on sleeves
Here are a few examples of other bloggers who have opened up and expressed their vulnerability. Even though I’ve never met most of these people in real life, I feel more connected to them that your average blogger because they were willing to put themselves out there.
Ellie Potten – Life Is Not A Dress Rehearsal
Written in the third person…
Then, suddenly… it happened. Her stomach turned over, her heart flipped up into her throat, and she felt herself lose control. She had an accident. Right there in the shop. A tiny accident, to be sure, but by this time the panic had liquidated her insides and it was too late.
[…] In the bathroom she cried and cried, feeling sick and ashamed, shaking like a leaf from head to toe. Finally her friend found her and drove her home. The moment she was safely through the front door she burst into racking sobs, threw her clothes in the washing machine, and curled up in a ball on her bed.
Jack Bennett – thirty two thousand days
It’s a pretty simple story – I was in a long-term relationship, we were married for 2.5 years and then divorced. […] Until now, I avoided mentioning this here for a variety of “reasons”.
- I didn’t want to appear imperfect (limiting belief – “Helping others with their interpersonal relationships is an important part of being a coach. How can I do that authentically if I got divorced myself?”)
- I didn’t want to be disliked by others. As individuals, people are mostly pleasant and kind, but the internet as a whole sometimes delivers spikes of viciousness and stupidity.
- I didn’t want to be judged by others for “leaving” rather than “being left”, or for the reasons that I chose to leave that relationship. Victimhood is a comfortable pose to take and is usually guaranteed some sympathy; conversely, embracing your own power and creating uncomfortable change is often a target for criticism.
Jennifer Winter – FearLess Jenn
My reality is that, no matter how inspiring those first few minutes of the weekend may be, in the end, I will be alone.
Everyone has their own preference as to how much social time and how much alone time they need, and from what I hear from those people, it works out great when they can keep that balance. I, however, do not have such a balance.
I spend way too much time alone.
[…] For the past several weekends I’ve really thought about this. Every Friday I go through the same routine, and every weekend I still go through the same motions. Every minute, wanting, wishing, I would just step outside the house or call a friend.
I feel like I’ve already lost him.
Our situation isn’t unusual. At 71, my father isn’t exactly young. And many families go through this, but the experience has changed me completely.
I never told my father I loved him until he was in that hospital bed and I thought he was going to die. My father and I just didn’t do that kind of thing, ever. I’m not sure why. It’s just the way it was. We didn’t have a close relationship, but we did. Do you know what I mean? Funny phrase, “I love you.” We should say it more often. I know, pot meet kettle.
J.D. Roth – Foldedspace
I never set out to be a personal finance expert. In fact, I’m sort of the opposite of an expert. I’m an average guy who’s made a lot of mistakes. Sure, I’ve turned things around and that’s what I blog about, but I struggle with the idea that people expect me to know more than I do (or have more training than I do).
And so every day at Get Rich Slowly, I brace myself for failure. A part of me thinks, “This is the day. Today everyone will realize that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m just a regular joe.” I wake up every morning expecting to find tons of negative comments about whatever it is I’ve written. (Or whatever my guest writers have written.)
For over three years — for over a thousand days — I’ve wrestled with daily doubt.
Emilie Wapnick, and friends – Puttylike
A special mention here for this post put together by Emilie, where a bunch of bloggers you’ve probably heard of share their stories of failure. Such as…
“My wife divorced me, and took my life savings.” – Derek Sivers
“I pretended like my life was more awesome than it was.” – Ev Bogue
“I failed spectacularly at being an entrepreneur for the better part of six years…” – Corbett Barr
“I had to drop out a year into my degree because the anxiety got so bad I couldn’t leave the house.” – Jade Craven
Face it: You’re not fooling anyone with that mask of invulnerability. You might think you are, but the people you want to connect with most will always feel a little uneasy in your presence, for as long as you insist on hiding the chinks in your armor.
Open up and let go. Let your vulnerable flag fly, see what happens.
If you’re feeling up to it, you can get started in the comments.