Everyone is carrying something. Let others lighten the load for you.
“Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.” — Fred Rogers
[Editor’s note: this was originally an edition only for paying subscribers.]
Today’s edition is a little different.
It’s arriving a day late and I don’t have the full complement of three stories in each of the Timely / Timeless sections. And I’ll tell you exactly why.
First, it’s been a busy week, with a looming deadline for a client that’s kept me from more wide reading — the kind of reading that brings the deeper thinking you've come to expect from this newsletter. Not to mention that there aren't that many stories out there about vulnerability (aside from Brené Brown, who over-indexes in this area).
And, to be blunt, everything in the news lately has had me more than a little distracted. You might feel the same way.
As we rush about, with the usual complement of personal commitments and business assignments, along with the ever-present background of the pandemic, conflicts across the globe, a rising trend of authoritarianism, employment and financial uncertainty, and more, each of us is harboring some sort of burden.
Do you have any idea how much people are carrying around with them every day?
Not everyone is willing to talk about their personal struggles, nor do they feel it’s the purview of loose connections or even work colleagues. They might not like to make themselves vulnerable. But you can show them it’s worth the risk.
Personal struggles aside, there’s a good portion of the population that simply doesn’t like speaking in front of groups of people, whether on a video call or in a conference hall.
It’s not easy to put yourself out there, being the lone person on a stage, putting yourself in a vulnerable position. People might laugh at you, or perhaps even worse, greet you with profound silence.
Public speaking is not a trade. It’s not quite a skill. And while it’s something we develop, craft, and hone over time — much like writing — for those of us who have felt this calling, it’s something else.
In the realm of self-expression, speaking is probably the most personal form of art. We’re forced to put ourselves in front of others, and share our ideas. It's when we're most vulnerable.
If we do it well, we have the ability to touch the minds and hearts of the audiences we address. To enchant them with stories. Perhaps even to change their lives.
Every speaker, whether a manager making a presentation or the most polished keynoter, comes from vastly different backgrounds, unequal levels of experience, and at various points in our career. But each of us has a gift.
The ancient Greeks and Romans called it oratory; today we call it public speaking. However you refer to it, it’s at the intersection of deep thought, spoken word, and persuasion.
In recent weeks, we’ve talked about the importance of leader humility. And as leaders are expected to be proficient communicators, public speaking is part of the job. Consider the public speakers you’ve heard, though: do they seem humble? More likely than not, they seem confident, perhaps even bordering on arrogant.
Leaders are more likely to show arrogance than they are humility. It’s the alpha-nature of the position. The go-getters. The impostors.
So a natural question arises: how do we strike a balance between humility and arrogance? Bill Taylor got to the heart of this in Harvard Business Review:
“Humility can feel soft at a time when problems are hard; it can make leaders appear vulnerable when people are looking for answers and reassurances. Of course, that’s precisely its virtue: The most effective business leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers; the world is just too complicated for that. They understand that their job is to get the best ideas from the right people, whomever and wherever those people may be.”
We risk so much by putting ourselves out there.
Experiencing failure or defeat. Admitting our weaknesses and flaws. Showing our more delicate and otherwise private feelings.
We fear rejection, humiliation, exposure, and “otherness.”
What do we gain by holding back?
Usually, it’s a short-term benefit: a personal sense of victory knowing that we've kept our secrets safe. A sense of strength, in that no one else knows how difficult things have been for us.
But deep down, we know we’re putting up a façade. Perhaps, we think, we can outrun this mirage if we turn things around — no one will be the wiser.
Alternatively, what do we gain if we’re open and vulnerable?
Respect. Empathy. The willingness of others to feel useful and to help.
In short: the ability to form and solidify relationships.
So maybe being vulnerable — some might call it being authentic — has its benefits.
The question you need to ask yourself is: “Am I worth it?”
Yes. Yes, you are.
“Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset.” — Stephen Russell, 1998
Seeking Vulnerable Leaders
Today's leaders need vulnerability, not bravado. (Harvard Business Review)
Eight everyday technologies that make you vulnerable to cyberattacks. (Malware Bytes)
“Today’s city is the most vulnerable social structure ever conceived by man.” — Martin Oppenheimer, 1969
Controversial opinion, or a look at the facts? Andrew Horowitz contends that when it comes to natural disasters, “vulnerability is socially constructed…who is in harm’s way is the product of political decisions and social arrangements, rather than the inevitable order of things.” (Lapham's Quarterly)
Enabling Us to Reach This Season
This essay about a Pittsburgh Jewish community’s celebration of the first night of Hanukkah in the wake of a synagogue shooting that killed 11 people, the author wife of the rabbi there—is raw, emotional, and vulnerable. (The Atlantic)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.” — John C. Maxwell, 2007
🎧 The VulnerABILITY Podcast by Marisa Donnelly is a series dedicated to real, honest, and open conversations with people from all walks of life. Covering topics of love/relationships, overcoming addiction/abuse, careers and purpose, self-love, parenting, and everything in-between, this podcast unapologetically shares the moments and musings of life.
📒 The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure. Most people are never prepared to deal with failure. In Fail Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, John C. Maxwell says that if you are like him, coming out of school, you feared it, misunderstood it, and ran away from it. But Maxwell has learned to make failure his friend, and he can teach you to do the same.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.